The story so far : Amid vociferous opposition, the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, was introduced by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra on Tuesday during the winter session of the Assembly in Belagavi. The Bill envisages stringent provisions for forced or induced conversions. The Basavaraj Bommai led government wants to prohibit conversion by “misrepresentation, force, allurement, fraudulent means, or marriage.”
What does the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill aim to check?
The Bill proposes a maximum punishment of 10 years of imprisonment for forcible conversion of persons from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe communities, minors and women to another religion. The Bill prohibits conversion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, allurement of marriage, coercion and undue influence.
According to the proposed legislation, complaints of conversions can be filed by family members of a person who is getting converted, or any other person who is related to the person who is getting converted, or any person associated with the person getting converted.
The offence of conversion is cognisable and non-bailable and will attract a jail term of three to five years and a fine of ₹25,000 for people found violating the law and a jail term of three to 10 years, and a fine of ₹50,000 for people converting minors, women and persons from the SC and ST communities. The Bill also envisages a compensation of ₹5 lakh to victims of forced conversions.
What about those wishing to convert willingly to another religion?
After the law comes into force, any person intending to convert to another religion will have to inform the district magistrate at least thirty days in advance. The person executing the conversion must also give a notice one month in advance, following which an inquiry will be conducted by the district magistrate through the police to establish the real intent of conversion. Not informing authorities will carry a prison term of six months to three years for persons who are converted and one year to five years for the persons carrying out the conversions. After getting converted, the person has to again inform the district magistrate within 30 days after conversion and must appear before the district magistrate to confirm his/her identity. Not informing the district magistrate will lead to the conversion being declared null and void.
Post conversion, the district magistrate has to inform revenue authorities, the social welfare, minority, backward classes and other departments of the conversion, who will, in turn, take steps with respect to the entitlements of the person in terms of reservations and other benefits.
How many States have enacted the legislation?
Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have laws restricting religious conversion. Penalties for breaching the laws can range from monetary fines to imprisonment, with punishments ranging from one to three years of imprisonment and fines from ₹5,000 to ₹50,000. Some of the laws provide for stiffer penalties if women, children, or members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) are being converted. Some other States, including Manipur, are reportedly “considering similar laws.”
Odisha was the first State to enact anti-conversion legislation, the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967. Madhya Pradesh enacted the same the following year.
How has Parliament handled anti-conversion bills?
After independence, Parliament introduced a number of anti-conversion bills which were not enacted for want of majority approval. In post-Independent India, the first Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill was introduced in 1954, which sought to enforce “licensing of missionaries and the registration of conversion with government officials.” This bill was rejected. This was followed by the introduction of the Backward Communities (Religious Protection) Bill in 1960, “which aimed at checking conversion of Hindus to ‘non-Indian religions’ which, as per the definition in the Bill, included Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism,” and the Freedom of Religion Bill in 1979, which sought “official curbs on inter-religious conversion.”
These bills fell through for want of majority approval.
Research indicates that in the 1980s, the focus of anti-conversion laws was Muslims seeking to convert non- Muslims, while Christianity has received its share of attention since the 1990s.