Karnataka takes ordinance route to introduce anti-conversion law
The Karnataka government on Thursday took the ordinance route to implement the contents of the contentious anti-conversion bill that could not be tabled in the Upper House where the ruling BJP does not enjoy a clear majority.
The move has sparked fears among Christians and prompted the Archbishop of Bangalore to caution that “fringe elements” on whom the government has “no control” could misuse the law to target the minority community even more.
The cabinet passed the executive order to clear the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, that had earlier been cleared by the Assembly in December despite strong opposition from the Congress and the Janata Dal Secular.
Prior to the cabinet meeting, chief minister Basavaraj Bommai told reporters that the bill was being presented before the cabinet since the legislature was not in session. “We are placing the bill before the cabinet to promulgate an ordinance since the Assembly and the Council got prorogued,” he said.
After clearing the bill in the cabinet, home minister Araga Jnanendra told reporters: “We could not pass it in the Legislative Council since we don’t have a majority there. So we have brought an ordinance and will pass it in the Council in the next session. There is nothing unusual about it. It’s been a long time since we passed it in the Assembly. So we are clearing it now (in the cabinet).”
The bill will now be sent to the governor for ratification. Also, it will have to be passed in the Legislative Council in the next six months.
The proposed law lays down that those found guilty of “fraudulent” conversions could face between three and five years in jail with a fine of Rs 25,000. Proselytising a minor or members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities could lead to imprisonment for three to 10 years with a penalty of Rs 50,000. Anyone convicted of mass conversions could end up in jail for three to five years along with a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
An individual who wants to embrace another faith has to give notice to the district magistrate at least 60 days before the date of conversion. A person who is initiating someone into a new faith will have to inform the district magistrate 30 days ahead of such a conversion. Once an individual embraces another faith, he or she has to inform the district magistrate within 30 days of the conversion. Converts will lose all caste-based benefits such as reservations.
The Metropolitan Archbishop of Bangalore, Peter Machado, said the Christian community would appeal to governor Thaawar Chand Gehlot not to give his assent to the bill. “In the right democratic tradition, the Christian community members will appeal to the governor not to give assent to the bill,” he said in a statement.
Machado expressed fear that fringe elements would create problems once the bill is enacted. “There is no doubt fringe elements and groups will try to create problems for the members of our community as we have seen in the past, and the government is in no control of them,” he said.
State Congress president D.K. Shivakumar slammed the BJP government for the haste in clearing the bill through an ordinance. “I don’t know why the government is in such a hurry. They should instead take the ordinance route for some development work and provide jobs to youths.”