The Congress-run Karnataka government on Thursday decided to repeal the anti-conversion law enacted by the previous BJP dispensation and revert to earlier school textbook chapters by dropping content about RSS ideologues K.B. Hedgewar and V.D. Savarkar that the saffron party had introduced.
At the weekly cabinet meeting, it was decided that the government would withdraw the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act, 2022, which provides for jail terms of up to 10 years and fines of up to Rs 1 lakh for conversion through coercion or allurement.
Archbishop of Bangalore Peter Machado welcomed the decision to repeal the legislation and noted that such laws had increased the attacks on Christians. He expressed hope that other states would follow suit. “This step will contribute to fostering an atmosphere of religious harmony, tolerance and respect for all faiths in the state,” the archbishop added.
State law and parliamentary affairs minister H.K. Patil said the cabinet had taken a unanimous decision to repeal the controversial legislation. “The follow-up action will be taken in the Assembly session next month,” he told reporters.
The legislation, which came to be known as the anti-conversion law, had made it next to impossible for anyone to even voluntarily embrace another faith. Any violation of the law is deemed cognisable and non-bailable.
Archbishop Machado said: “The anti-conversion bill in Karnataka and (similar laws) in other states have increased the attacks on Christians as they encourage the fringe elements to attack and cause harm to Christians. (They) fuelled doubt, mistrust and disharmony between communities. I hope the other states will follow suit.”
Machado is president of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops' Council and the All Karnataka United Forum for Christian Human Rights.
“Understanding the intricacies involved in the process of repealing a law, the Christian community remains hopeful and confident that the necessary support required at various stages will be extended by all concerned parties. This collaborative effort is vital to ensure a smooth transition and the complete withdrawal of the anti-conversion bill,” the archbishop said.
The cabinet has also decided to restore to school textbooks all the chapters dropped by the previous BJP government, which has been accused of saffronising education.
Primary and secondary education minister Madhu Bangarappa said: “The textbooks' content will be restored to the stage before they were tweaked. So, all the chapters and lessons that were dropped will be restored.”
A textbook revision committee headed by writer and RSS supporter Rohith Chakrathirtha had in 2022 sparked an uproar by dropping or diluting several chapters. Among the chapters dropped or diluted were ones related to social reformer Sree Narayana Guru, Tipu Sultan, Bhagat Singh and progressive writers such as Sara Abubacker, P. Lankesh (father of slain journalist Gauri Lankesh) and A.N. Murthy Rao.
The Chakrathirtha-led committee had included chapters on RSS founder Hedgewar and the works of Sangh ideologues Govinda Pai, Bannanje Govindacharya and Chakravarthi Sulibele.
Sulibele, whose lesson has now been dropped, reacted sharply and warned the Congress government of an appropriate response from society at large. “This is playing petty politics and playing with the careers of children. Society will give an appropriate reaction,” he told a channel.
Social welfare minister H.C. Mahadevappa said the cabinet had decided to make it mandatory for all educational institutions in Karnataka to have their students read the Preamble to the Constitution.
The minister told the cabinet media briefing that the Preamble would be read along with the state and national anthems every day. All government offices would have to prominently display a clear copy of the Preamble.