Karnataka Legislative Council on Thursday passed the contentious "anti-conversion bill", amid objections from the opposition Congress and JD(S).
The 'Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill' was passed by the Legislative Assembly in December last. As the Bill was pending for passage in the Legislative Council, where the ruling BJP was short of a majority then, the government subsequently promulgated an ordinance in May this year to give effect to the bill.
Home Minister Araga Jnanendra piloted the Bill for consideration of the Upper House on Thursday. Noting that in recent times religious conversions have become widespread, he said there have been mass conversions with allurements and through force, disturbing the peace and leading to mistrust among people following different religions.
The Bill does not take away anyone's religious freedom and that anyone can practice the religion of his or her choice, but not under pressure and allurements, Jnanendra said.
Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council B K Hariprasad even tore the copy of the bill in protest as the pro-tem Chairman Raghunath Rao Malkapure was in the process of putting the bill to vote.
Hariprasad (Congress) termed the bill as "unconstitutional" and said it will affect the right to religion. Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister J C Madhuswamy maintained that the bill was well within the scope of the Constitution of India.
Earlier, during the passage of the bill in the Legislative Assembly, Jnanendra had said that eight states have passed or were implementing such a law, and Karnataka would become the ninth one.
The bill provides for the protection of the right to freedom of religion and prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.
It proposes imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of Rs 25,000, while for violation of provisions with respect to minors, women, SC/ST, the offenders will face imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine of not less than Rs 50,000.
The bill also makes provisions for the accused to pay up to Rs five lakh as compensation to those who were made to convert, and with regards to cases of mass conversion, there shall be a 3-10 year jail term and a fine of up to Rs one lakh.
It also states that any marriage which has happened for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another, either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage, shall be declared as null and void by the family court.
Wherever the family court is not established, the court having jurisdiction can try such a case, on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party of the marriage. The offense under this bill is non-bailable and cognisable.
The bill mandates that persons who wish to convert to another faith shall give a declaration in a prescribed format at least 30 days in advance to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate specially authorised by the District Magistrate in this regard of his residing district or place of birth within the state.
Also, the religious converter who performs the conversion shall give 30 days advance notice in a format, to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate.
Minister Jnanendra further said, the person who wishes to convert will lose the religion of his or her origin and facilities or benefits attached with it, including reservations; however, one is likely to receive the benefits entitled to, in the religion, he or she converts to.