Amid opposition Congress's protest and walkout, the Karnataka legislative assembly on Wednesday okayed the anti-conversion bill, passed by the legislative council last week with minor amendments, that seeks to replace the ordinance that was in place to give effect to the bill.
The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill was earlier passed by the legislative assembly in December last.
As the bill was pending for passage in the legislative council, where the ruling BJP was short of majority then, the government had subsequently promulgated an ordinance in May this year to give effect to the bill.
The bill was finally passed by the legislative council on September 15.
Home Minister Araga Jnanendra on Wednesday moved the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2022 (as passed by the legislative assembly and as passed by the legislative council with amendments) for its reconsideration and passage.
Piloting the bill, he said, "The bill was passed by the assembly during the Belagavi session (in December), it was pending in the council, so an ordinance was promulgated, and to replace the ordinance, this bill is being introduced with a minor amendment that the law will come into effect from May 17, 2022; the bill after getting passed with amendment in the council, has come back to the assembly.”
After assent from the governor, the law will come into effect from May 17, 2022, the date on which the ordinance was promulgated.
However, Congress deputy leader in the assembly U T Khader, stating that everyone is opposed to forced conversions, said, "The intention of this bill is not right, it is politically motivated, illegal and is unconstitutional. It will be challenged in the courts and the courts may give stay or strike it down."
Congress MLA Shivanand Patil said the bill provides for the blood relative of the person who has been converted to file a complaint and there are all chances of it being misused and may even lead to harassment.
Defending the bill minister Jnanendra, said there is no scope for misuse or confusion in the bill and it was in no way against religious freedom.
Noting that the bill is as per the Constitution, he said the anti-conversion bill was brought in after the Law Commission studied various such legislations.
During the passage of the bill in the legislative assembly in December, Jnanendra had said that eight states have passed or were implementing such a law, and Karnataka would become the ninth one.
The bill, opposed by a section of Christian community leaders among others, provides for protection of right to freedom of religion and prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.
It proposes imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of Rs 25,000, while for violation of provisions with respect to minors, women, SC/ST, the offenders will face imprisonment from three to 10 years and a fine of not less than Rs 50,000.
The bill also makes provisions for the accused to pay up to Rs five lakh as compensation to those who were made to convert, and with regards to cases of mass conversion there shall be a 3- to 10-year jail term and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.
It also states that any marriage which has happened for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another, either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage, shall be declared as null and void by the family court.
Wherever the family court is not established, the court having jurisdiction can try such a case, on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party of the marriage.
The offence under this bill is non-bailable and cognisable.
The bill mandates that persons who wish to convert to another faith shall give a declaration in a prescribed format at least 30 days in advance to the district magistrate or the additional district magistrate specially authorised by the district magistrate in this regard of his residing district or place of birth within the state.
Also, the religious converter who performs the conversion shall give 30 days advance notice in a format, to the district magistrate or the additional district magistrate.
Minister Jnanendra further said, the person who wishes to convert will lose the religion of his or her origin and facilities or benefits attached with it, including reservations; however, one is likely to receive the benefits entitled to, in the religion, he or she converts to.