Hundreds of people from more than 40 socio-political organisations Wednesday took to the streets in Bengaluru against the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, commonly known as the anti-conversion Bill.
The protest was held a day after the draconian Bill was introduced in the state Legislative Assembly during the ongoing Winter Session in Belagavi.
The protest was attended by Bengaluru Archbishop Peter Machado and several other leaders from minority communities and political groups.
“Now that the contents of the Bill have been read by all, it has been found that it is not only affecting the Christians. It is affecting the larger society. It is a question of privacy, the question of marriage, the question of women, Dalits, and Muslims,” Machado said while addressing the crowd.
“Any help or concession provided by any of our Christian institutions working in the fields of education, health, senior citizen care, and orphanages, to any member not from the Christian community, can be construed as an inducement for conversion as per the Bill,” the Christian leader said.
Karnataka has seen a rise in attacks against Christians in October and November after the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) proposed the anti-conversion law in the state.
The protest march was held from Mysore Bank Circle to Freedom Park.
The protesters who carried the placards against the draconian Bill demanded that the Bill be withdrawn as the Karnataka government is trampling upon the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of religion, privacy, and dignity.
Home Minister Araga Jnanendra tabled the Bill while Congress MLAs objected to the manner in which it was introduced. The Cabinet had cleared the Bill Monday but no official information was shared about introducing it in the House. Although a debate on the Bill was to be held Wednesday morning, it was postponed and will now be held Thursday morning.
The draft Bill proposes a maximum punishment of 10 years of jail for forcible conversion of persons from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe communities, minors, and women, to another religion.
The new Bill is similar to laws brought by the Bharatiya Janata Party in some other states, including in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.
According to the new Bill, those who want to convert need to inform the District Magistrate (DM) at least 60 days in advance. The “religious converter” shall give one month’s prior notice in ‘form-II of such conversion’ to the district magistrate or any other officer not below the rank of the additional district magistrate. The marriages done for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa will be declared void, as per the draft copy of ‘The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill-2021’.
In the new Bill, the burden of proof that the conversion is “valid and lawful” has been put on the ‘convertor’, and allows the family of an individual to report the conversion as unlawful. This takes away from the person’s right to choose whether they want to convert to another religion. In brief, the new proposed law can simply end up in painting any inter-faith marriage, where there is a subsequent conversion, as a criminal act.
According to law experts and rights groups, the new Bill gives the government an increased say in an individual’s personal life — the District Magistrate and the police will get to decide whether a particular person’s choice to convert is ‘valid’ or not.