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New Delhi: Karnataka Governor Thaawarchand Gehlot has given his assent to the Ordinance that gave effect to the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021.
The Bill is being called the ‘anti-conversion bill’.
Similar legislation has been brought by Bharatiya Janata Party governments in states which have claimed these will counter ‘love jihad’, a Sangh Parivar-coined phrase to refer to a non-existent conspiracy by Muslims to convert Hindu women by luring them into marriage.
While the Union home ministry itself has said the term its “not defined by law” and that no cases of it were reported, it was given legal sanction in the recent past by mostly BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, etc.
In Karnataka, the days leading up to the clearing of the Bill in the assembly saw protests.
The bill was passed in the Assembly in December last year but was pending before the Council where BJP is one short of a majority. The Karnataka government promulgated the Karnataka Protection of Right To Freedom of Religion Ordinance on May 12.
In addition to the anti-Muslim ‘love jihad’ angle, the Bill is also being seen as a tool to harass Christians in the state, Pratiba Raman had noted in an analysis for The Wire.
The Governor’s nod came a day after the Bengaluru Archbishop, Peter Machado along with a Christian delegation called on him requesting him to hold back the ordinance and not to give his approval.
Machado on Monday, May 16, had alleged that some groups in Karnataka wish to sideline minorities.
“If the ordinance is promulgated, then, we surely have to see ways and means of finding resources for us from different sides and legal route is also one of the things we may take to,” he told reporters on Monday.
The Congress Karnataka unit had been opposing the bill calling it “draconian” and “anti-constitution”.
‘Up to 10 years in prison’
According to the government note, the ordinance is 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.
“Whereas the Karnataka Legislative Assembly and the Karnataka Legislative Council are not in session and the Honourable Governor of Karnataka is satisfied that the circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action to promulgate the Ordinance for the purposes hereinafter appearing,” the gazette notification read.
The ordinance says that 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 violators will be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term of three years but which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine of Rs 25,000.
With regard to mass conversion, the punishment stretches up to the imprisonment of either description for a term of three years but which may extend to ten years and “shall also be liable to fine of Rs one lakh”.
“The court shall also grant appropriate compensation payable by the accused to the victim of said conversion which may extend to maximum of Rs five lakh and shall be in addition to fine,” the ordinance read.
Further, whoever having been previously convicted of an offence under this ordinance is again convicted of an offence punishable under this ordinance will be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term of not less than five years and will also be liable to a fine of Rs two lakh.
The offences committed under the ordinance are cognisable and non-bailable.
Whoever desires to convert his religion, will have to give a declaration in Form-I at least 30 days in advance to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate specially authorised by the District Magistrate of his residing district or place of birth within the state. Activists have claimed that this is an infringement on the right to privacy.
The religious converter who performs conversion ceremony for converting any person of one religion to another religion, should give thirty days advance notice in Form-2 of such intended conversion, to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate, specially authorised by the District Magistrate of the district from where the proposed converter hails, the ordinance said.
The District Magistrate, after receiving the information will notify proposed religious conversion on the notice board of the office of the District Magistrate and in the office of the tehsildar calling for objections.
If any objections are received within 30 days, he will get an inquiry conducted through officials of Revenue or Social Welfare Department with regard to genuine intention, purpose and cause of the proposed conversion.
“If the District Magistrate comes to a conclusion based on the said inquiry of the commission of an offence under this Ordinance, he shall cause the concerned police authorities to initiate criminal action for contravention of the provisions of section 3,” the ordinance said.
(With PTI inputs)