Bengaluru: If passed by the Assembly in its current form, Karnataka’s anti-conversion bill will empower the state to deem interfaith marriages involving conversion “null & void”.
Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra Tuesday introduced a bill to regulate and penalise religious conversions in the state.
The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, known simply as the ‘anti-conversion bill’, has categorised as “allurements” the promise of marriage, free education, free medical treatment and jobs, and hence terms them unlawful reasons for religious conversion.
According to the bill, the term “religious convertor” will be applicable to anyone in the post of “Father, Priest, Purohit, Pandit, Moulvi or Mulla”.
Under the bill, a person planning to convert or a ‘convertor’ has to give a 30-day prior notice to the district magistrate about the conversion. A declaration is to be given even after conversion.
Those found guilty of converting others unlawfully can attract a punishment of three to five years in jail and a fine of Rs 25,000, the bill says. The punishment is higher if the converted person is a minor, a woman, person belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes or “of unsound mind”.
Persons organising “mass conversions” are also liable to be punished.
Conversion to previous religion exempt
“The bill seeks to prohibit religious conversion by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means,” Karnataka Home Minister Jnanendra said while introducing the bill.
The bill also prohibits conversion for the purpose of marriage and seeks to deem such marriages void.
“Any marriage which has happened with the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion, either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage, shall be declared as null and void,” the bill states.
While the bill seeks to punish those involved and aiding “unlawful” religious conversion, it has been careful to exempt people reconverting to their “immediate previous religion”. People reconverting to their previous religion, in fact, won’t even be considered as ‘conversion’ under this law.
Free hand to raise objections, file complaint
The anti-conversion bill also frames voluntary religious conversion within a series of registration, notification, calls for objection and multiple rounds of enquiry.
The bill calls for all offences under the law to be non-bailable and cognisable, and defines “mass conversion” as an event where even two or more people are converted.
It gives anyone a free hand to raise objections and file complaints of suspected conversion.
“Any converted person, his parents, brother, sister or any other person who is related to him by blood, marriage or adoption or in any form associated or colleague may lodge a complaint of such conversion,” the bill reads.
While the bill doesn’t blanket-ban religious conversion, it makes the process to convert tedious, with options for anybody to file objections to an individual’s decision to convert.
Declaration before magistrate & after conversion
Any person wanting to convert to another religion or any convertor who wants to conduct a conversion should mandatorily make a declaration 30 days in advance to the district magistrate. Separate forms have been designed for this purpose.
The declaration is then notified on the notice board for public scrutiny, so that anybody might object. If any objection is received, an inquiry will be conducted through the revenue or social welfare department to ascertain the intention, purpose and cause of the proposed conversion, the bill says.
If the district magistrate concludes that the conversion is “unlawful”, police action will be initiated.
The bill also demands declaration after the fact of religious conversion.
Once again, a person who has converted will have to declare it before the magistrate within 30 days and it will be posted for public scrutiny on notice boards for anyone to object.
“The District Magistrate shall notify religious conversion on the notice board of the office of the District Magistrate and in the office of the Tahsildar and will call for objections in such cases where no objections were called earlier,” the bill says.
The declaration must contain personal details of the converted person — date of birth, permanent address, present place of residence, father’s/husband’s name, the religion to which the converted person originally belonged and the religion to which he has converted, the date and place of conversion and the nature of the conversion process, along with copies of ID cards or Aadhaar card.
The converted person will then have to appear before the magistrate in person. If objections are received the same enquiry procedure is followed to approve the conversion or deem it void.
If the enquiry concludes the conversion to be “lawful”, the person’s records are reclassified, which may affect his entitlement to grants and benefits under government schemes.
Quantum of punishment
The Bill puts women, minors and “persons of unsound mind” in the same category.
Under the bill, individuals converting others via “unlawful” means will attract punishment of three to five years in jail and a fine of Rs 25,000.
If the converted person is a minor, woman, a person belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes or “of unsound mind”, the punishment will be three to 10 years in prison, with a fine of Rs 50,000.
Those organising mass conversions “unlawfully” face three to 10 years in jail, with fine of Rs 1 lakh.
The bill demands that the ‘accused’ pay Rs 5 lakh compensation to the victim of a forced conversion, excluding the fine imposed by the courts. Repeat offences will attract a sentence of five years in jail and a fine of Rs 2 lakh.
The bill also proposes to stop all government aid and grants to institutions involved in “unlawful conversions”, apart from punishing the heads of such institutions.
The burden of proof of innocence will lie with the accused under the law, instead of the prosecution having to prove the offence.
Furthermore, the bill seeks to make anyone who has aided or abetted an offence under the law as “parties to the offence”, whether or not they themselves carried it out.
‘Unconstitutional’, says Opposition
The bill was met with severe opposition from the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) (JD-S), who accused the government of trying to introduce the bill “on the sly”.
Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar even tore up copies of the bill, deeming it “unconstitutional” and accusing the government of sneaking the bill into the House without discussing it in the Business Advisory Committee or listing it as business of the House for Tuesday.
The bill was made part of the supplementary business for the afternoon session on Tuesday, right before the House reconvened.
“We oppose even the introduction of this bill that violates constitutional rights of citizens,” said Siddaramaiah of the Congress, leader of the Opposition.
Speaker of the Assembly Vishweshwara Hegde Kageri said the bill will be taken up for discussion Wednesday.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)