Karnataka’s Anti-Conversion Bill

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    • The Karnataka Legislative Council recently passed the contentious Anti-conversion Bill.

    More about the news

    • The Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill had been cleared by the Assembly in December 2021 but was not introduced in the Upper House.
      • In May 2022, an ordinance was issued to facilitate the introduction of the anti-conversion law

    Highlights of the Bill

    • Conversion steps: 
      • Before conversion:
        • The Bill insists that any person intending to convert to another religion will have to inform the district magistrate at least thirty days in advance. 
        • The person executing the conversion must also give a notice one month in advance, following which an inquiry will be conducted by the district magistrate through the police to establish the real intent of conversion.’
          • Not informing the district magistrate will lead to the conversion being declared null and void.
      • Post conversion:
        • After getting converted, the person has to again inform the district magistrate within 30 days after conversion and must appear before the district magistrate to confirm his/her identity.
        • Post conversion, the district magistrate has to inform revenue authorities, the social welfare, minority, backward classes and other departments of the conversion, who will, in turn, take steps with respect to the entitlements of the person in terms of reservations and other benefits.
    • Exemptions:
      • Bill makes an exemption for someone who “reconverts to his immediate previous religion” as “the same shall not be deemed conversion under this Act”.
    • Declaration of Marriage Null and Void: 
      • The bill says 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 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 by the family court or where the family court is not established, the court having jurisdiction to try such case, on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party of the marriage.
    • Filing complaint:
      • Complaints of conversions can be filed by family members of a person who is getting converted, or any other person who is related to the person who is getting converted, or any person associated with the person getting converted.
    • Punishments: 
      • The Bill proposes a maximum punishment of 10 years of imprisonment for forcible conversion of persons from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe communities, minors and women to another religion. 
      • The offence of conversion is cognisable and non-bailable and will attract 
        • A jail term of three to five years and a fine of 25,000 for people found violating the law and 
        • A jail term of three to ten years, and a fine of 50,000 for people converting minors, women and persons from the SC and ST communities. 
    • In case of forced conversions:
      • The Bill also envisages a compensation of 5 lakh to victims of forced conversions.

    Right to Freedom of religion in India

    • The Indian Constitution allows individuals the freedom to live by their religious beliefs and practices as they interpret these. 
    • In keeping with this idea of religious freedom for all, India also adopted a strategy of separating the power of religion and the power of the State
    • Constitutional Provisions:
      • Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
      • Article 26:  Freedom to manage religious affairs
      • Article 27: Freedom to pay taxes for promotion of any particular religion
      • Article 28: Freedom to attend religious instruction or worship in certain educational institutions

    Significance

    • Adhering to previous Supreme Court verdict:
      • The SC has said that freedom of religion does not allow for forced conversions. 
      • There is no intention to take away anybody’s right or violate Article 25 of the Constitution.
    • No to coercive conversions:
      • There is freedom to convert but it should not be under coercion and allurements.
      • Many in the Dalit community convert and still claim benefits and we do not want anybody to be robbed of benefits in this manner.
    • Conversion as per law:
      • If there has to be conversions then let it be as per a law and that is the intention behind the Bill. 

    Criticisms

    • Burden of proof:
      • Members of the state’s Legislative Council raised objection to the punishment prescribed and the burden of proof on the witness.
    • Hate crimes against Christians in Karnataka:
      • According to a report published by the Karnataka chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), 39 incidents of hate crimes against Christians have occurred in Karnataka between January and November 2021. 
        • The report states: In most cases, Christians have been forced to shut down their places of worship and stop assembling for their Sunday prayers.
    • Population mismatch:
      • The population of Christians in Karnataka declined marginally between 2001 and 2011 from 1.9 per cent to 1.87 per cent [according to Census of India figures]. 
      • If there are forced conversions taking place as cliamed by theruling party, the Christian population should be increasing.
    • Unrests:
      • It has also been criticised that the bill is against the Constitution as there is an attempt to disturb peace in the state and divert public attention for political reasons.

    Other states have similar Legislations:

    • Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have laws restricting religious conversion. 
      • Odisha was the first State to enact anti-conversion legislation, the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967. 
      • Madhya Pradesh enacted the same the following year.
    • Penalties for breaching the laws can range from monetary fines to imprisonment, with punishments ranging from one to three years of imprisonment and fines from 5,000 to Rs 50,000. 
    • Some of the laws provide for stiffer penalties if women, children, or members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) are being converted. 

    Source: TH