10 years in prison, long process to change religion: the Karnataka anti-conversion bill

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The bill, which is modeled on a similar law in Uttar Pradesh, seeks to penalize people who convert or attempt to convert others by “fraudulent means” or by marriage.

The Karnataka government is considering a maximum sentence of 10 years under its anti-conversion bill – which appears to be modeled after a similar law introduced by the state of Uttar Pradesh. The bill says that, just like in Uttar Pradesh, this bill seeks to penalize people who convert or attempt to convert others by “fraudulent means” or by marriage. The draft may undergo modifications once it is submitted to the Cabinet of the State.

According to the current draft, under the Karnataka Right to Religious Freedom Protection Bill 2021, anyone found guilty of illegally converting another person faces a minimum prison sentence of three to five years and a fine of 25,000 rupees. And if the “illegally converted” person is either a minor, a woman, or belongs to listed castes or tribes, the penalty is more severe – a minimum of three years and a maximum of ten years in prison, and 50,000. Rs fine.

In the event of “mass conversion”, the accused may face three to ten years in prison and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. The law also says that an appropriate court will order the accused to pay compensation to the “conversion victim”, and this amount can go up to Rs 5 lakh and must be paid by the accused in addition to the fine prescribed by law. .

It is important to note that some of the provisions that the Karnataka government aims to introduce as part of its anti-conversion laws have been maintained in another state ruled by the BJP – Gujarat. In 2020, the government of Gujarat also passed an amended anti-conversion law. However, the Gujarat High Court suspended some of the provisions in August 2021 – provisions like the one that places the burden of proof on those entering into an interfaith marriage. The law says that the person who is the “converter” must prove that the marriage was not performed due to fraud, seduction or coercion. “This again puts the parties who enter into an interfaith marriage at great risk,” the High Court said. He added that the law claims to say that an interfaith marriage itself is “presumed to be a means for the purposes of an illegal conversion”.

The Gujarat High Court noted that the provisions run counter to an individual’s right to choice and liberty, granted by the Constitution of India. Thus, since similar provisions are also included in the Karnataka Bill, it means that the law goes against the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

A long process to save the conversion

According to the bill, in case someone wants to convert voluntarily to another religion, a long process is in place and this also applies to interfaith marriages. First, those who wish to convert must notify the District Magistrate (DM) at least 60 days in advance. The person who will carry out the conversion process must give one month’s notice to the district magistrate or additional district magistrate. The DM must then conduct an investigation through the police to find out the “real intention” of the conversion, then give the green light.

Once the conversion process is complete, the person who converted must submit a return within 30 days of the conversion. The statement should contain the personal information of the person converted – such as date of birth, address, name of father, old religion and religion to which the person converted, etc. – and the declaration must be submitted with a copy of his Aadhaar card.

After that, the converted person must appear before the district magistrate 21 days from the date of the declaration so that the district magistrate can confirm the details mentioned in the declaration. With this, the DM must keep an official register of the conversion and must inform the government representatives of the revenue department, the backward class social assistance department, the minorities social assistance department, heads of establishments of teaching, among other things, of conversion through official notification.

Then the authorities will take the appropriate measures to verify whether the person who has converted is still eligible to “enjoy the social status or receive economic benefits from the government that he received before the conversion”. This means that if a person from the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes converts to a minority religion, they could lose the benefits granted to them by the government.

Why the legal model is problematic

Many other BJP states have modeled their anti-conversion legislation proposals on the law of Uttar Pradesh. Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have recently passed laws amending existing anti-conversion laws.

In all of these laws the punishment is different according to the sexes, the burden of proof that the conversion is “valid and legal” has been placed on the partner or the “converter”, and allows an individual’s family to report the conversion. conversion as illegal. This effectively takes away the individual’s right to choose whether he wishes to convert to another religion. Thus, these laws may end up portraying any interfaith marriage, where there is a subsequent conversion, as questionable.

According to the Karnataka bill, the burden of proof that the religious conversion was not effected by force, coercion, fraudulent means or marriage “lies with the person who caused the conversion and when this conversion was facilitated by any person on such person “.

As the government aims to eliminate “forced” conversions, the bill in its current form will not only deter people from entering into interfaith marriages, it will also give more power to family members over the lives of their children. or their wards. Any parent can file a complaint against a particular interfaith relationship if they object to it. The sixty-day notice period will also allow those who oppose the interfaith relationship enough time to pressure the couple to break it. It also infringes on the freedom of an individual to practice the religion of his choice, which is a fundamental right.

The law also gives the government greater influence over an individual’s personal life – the district magistrate and the police will decide whether a particular person’s choice to convert is “valid” or not. This, again, is a violation of their fundamental right to practice the religion of their choice.

UP model for Karnataka law?

The law proposed by Karnataka appears to be similar to that stated in the Uttar Pradesh anti-conversion law. The government of Uttar Pradesh introduced the Prohibition of Illegal Conversion of Religion Ordinance in 2020. The ordinance criminalizes people who convert or attempt to convert people from one religion to another by “the use or practice of false statements, force, undue influence, coercion, lure or by any fraudulent means ”, or by marriage. It also penalizes those who “encourage, convince or conspire to such a conversion”.

In fact, the law of Uttar Pradesh prescribed less severe penalties. While the minimum sentence in the UP is one year, in Karnataka it is three years. While the minimum fine in UP is Rs 15,000, in Karnataka, it will be Rs 25,000.


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