Anti-conversion legislation passed in a number of states are being scrutinized because of their vagueness and the absence of strong arguments for them. The Indian constitution’s guarantee of fundamental rights is seriously threatened by the vague language used in them.
In this context, the state of Karnataka has revived the religious conversion debate by resurrecting an old bill that has been put on hold repeatedly over the years due to the intense degree of controversy it consistently generates. The Anti-Conversion Bill, however, has been passed for the first time in the state this time around thanks to a majority government led by Basavaraj Bommai of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Karnataka is not the first state in India to pass legislation that restricts the freedom of religion, which includes both the right to practise one’s own religion and the right to practise whatever religion one chooses. One of the earliest justifications for why an Indian anti-conversion bill was drafted.
As per latest news today,the opposition said that enacting an anti-conversion law would violate the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. In response, the administration asserted that the measure would only shield citizens from forced conversion, which is happening more frequently.
Despite resistance from the Congress and HD Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal Secular, the contentious anti-conversion bill was approved by Karnataka’s upper chamber today. The opposition claimed that this measure would violate the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of religion. In response, the administration asserted that the measure would only shield citizens from forced conversion, which is happening more frequently.
The Karnataka Legislative Assembly approved the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, also referred to as the anti-conversion bill, in December 2021. But as the BJP in power lacked a majority in the Council, it was not brought up for discussion. To prevent coercive conversions, the government instead approved an Ordinance or executive decree.
Following the MLC elections, which gave the BJP a majority, the bill was today presented to the Council.
The bill, which is being pushed by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, outlaws “illegal” conversion to another religion. Unlawful conversion will henceforth be defined as the use of falsehood, force, coercion, undue influence, allurement, or any other deceptive means.
Three to five years in prison and a 25,000 fine are the penalties for breaking the legislation. The penalty for converting a juvenile is up to ten years in prison and a fine of 50,000. A fine of one lakh rupees may be levied in cases of mass conversion. A repeat criminal faces a minimum five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to 2 lakh.
“It is an unconstitutional bill and is against Articles 25,26,15 and 29 of the Constitution,” said BK Hariprasad, the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council. “The government says it is not against any community. But most members who spoke from the treasury bench were spitting venom against the minority community,” he appended.
According to Law Minister JC Madhuswamy, the bill is intended to prevent coercive conversions.
In contrast to other statutes, this one places the burden of proof on the accused, who must demonstrate his innocence. A suspect is also not eligible for bail. A forced conversion will be deemed invalid for marriage.
Following the passage of the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance in Uttar Pradesh in 2020, anti-conversion legislation was quickly passed in BJP-controlled states. Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh have all passed legislation of a similar nature.
Similar laws had already been passed in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha. Forced conversion for marital purposes is prohibited by the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018.
People who oppose the regulations claim that they represent the right wing’s campaign against what they have dubbed “love jihad” — connections between Muslim males and Hindu women.
In their view, romances between Muslim men and Hindu women are a plot to convert the women, and the regulations are the right wing’s response to what they have dubbed “love jihad.” They claim that the laws will be utilised to target Muslim men as well as the Christian communities in some places.
Hence,conversion is opposed by some who see it as subversion, an evil, or “adharma.” However, conversion may also be for the converts a protest against oppression, both religious and secular, as well as an aspiration for betterment, both spiritual and otherwise. Those who support conversion see it as primarily being enlightening, saving others by sharing their convictions and beliefs.
The process of altering social identities and upholding human dignity is always difficult, but too frequently the converts’ agency is ignored even when they do endure hardships as a result of their conversion. Although converts, like all people, do have conflicting motivations, this does not take away from their inherent autonomy. A productive strategy would involve responsive politics, economic fairness, religious reform, and cultural rebirth rather than fighting to preserve the old status quo.