Anti-conversion bill introduced in Karnataka Assembly amid strong protest by Congress


PTI, Dec 21, 2021, 6:24 PM IST

Belagavi: The contentious anti-conversion bill was tabled in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, amid stiff opposition from Congress.

State Congress President D K Shivakumar even tore papers on his table, in protest against the introduction of the bill, which his party called ”draconian and anti-constitution”.

The ”Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021”, introduced in the assembly by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, provides for the protection of the 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.

The bill proposes for 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, offenders will face imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine of not less than Rs 50,000.

The proposed bill is also said to have made a provision for the accused to pay up to Rs five lakh as compensation to those who were made to convert.

With regard to cases of mass conversion, the bill proposes 3-10 years jail term and a fine of up to Rs one 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 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.

The offense under this bill is non-bailable and cognizable.

The bill that is also being opposed by Christian community leaders insists that the 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 authorized 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 also give thirty days advance notice in a format, to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate.

After Conversion, the concerned authority shall enter the cause in the relevant official records about conversion as well as reclassify the person converted for his entitlement to enjoy social status or to receive economic benefits from the government that he was getting prior to conversion.

This means the person who wishes to convert is likely to lose the religion of his or her origin and facilities or benefits attached with it, including reservations, sources said.

As the bill was introduced in the assembly post-lunch, Congress members objected to it stating that they are opposed to the introduction of the bill.

”We are opposed to the introduction of the bill as it violates fundamental rights and the constitution. It violates an individual’s rights. This is a draconian bill,” Leader of opposition Siddaramaiah said.

Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri asked Congress members to go through the bill that has just been introduced. It will be taken up for consideration only tomorrow, and the opposition members can make their objections known then.

As Siddaramaiah said, they were not aware of the introduction of the bill, the Speaker hit back saying ”ignorance of the law is no excuse”, and the bill was tabled as per procedures and rules.

He also said the introduction of the bill was mentioned in the supplementary agenda.

Siddaramaiah said Congress opposes the bill ”tooth and nail”, and will not allow such a draconian law in this house.

As BJP strongman and former Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa said the bill has been introduced and let it be discussed, Congress’ D K Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah said the bill has been introduced through ”hide-and-seek”.

Speaker Kageri took strong exception to it and said ”everything is done as per rule by me, the bill is mentioned in the agenda, if you have a difference of opinion on the bill express it, don’t make such allegations.” Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister J C Madhuswamy said the government is not pressing for consideration of the bill today itself.

”We have in fact tabled the bill in advance for the convenience of members to prepare and participate in the discussion tomorrow. The Chair has given a ruling by allowing the bill, and it is now the property of the House.” There was a heated exchange between the ruling and opposition sides, which saw Siddaramaiah calling the present BJP government as ”the worst government in the history of Karnataka”.

The Speaker and the government maintained that they were fair in the introduction of the bill and will remain the same during discussion.

The Congress members then staged a walkout from the House, condemning the government for ”violating the constitution as the bill is in violation of articles 21 and 25”.

”This government is anti-constitutional….we will not hear them, we will walk out and participate in the discussion tomorrow,” Siddaramaiah said before walking out.

The JD(S) has also said that it is opposed to the bill but did not stage any protest.

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