The Karnataka Legislative Assembly passed the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 Thursday prohibiting the “unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.”
The Karnataka government had tabled the bill before the state legislative assembly on Tuesday, spurring protest marches by hundreds of people against the anti-conversion bill. The bill was passed by the legislative assembly amid strong objections from the opposition parties. Section 3 criminalises conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, fraud or promise of marriage.
“Allurement” has been defined under this bill to include “acts of temptation” such as better lifestyle; divine displeasure; portraying practice, rituals and ceremonies or any integral part of a religion in a detrimental way vis-à-vis another religion; and glorification of one religion against another. Any contravention of this section is punishable with up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine.
Section 4 allows any converted person, or anyone connected to such person by blood, marriage or adoption, to register a complaint against any conversion that violates Section 3. Any offence committed under the bill is cognizable and non-bailable. All lawful religious conversions must be carried out as per a detailed procedure given under Sections 8 and 9.
The bill also provides that any marriage between a man of one religion and a woman of another religion happening solely for the purpose of unlawful conversion is void irrespective of whether the man or woman converted themselves before or after the marriage. Previously, the state of Gujarat had enacted a similar law, and the Gujarat High Court prima facie observed that this law “interferes with the intricacies of marriage including the right to the choice of an individual, thereby infringing Article 21 [right to life and personal liberty] of the Constitution of India.”
In introducing this law, Karnataka follows the footsteps of other states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In January 2021, the Indian Supreme Court issued notice on a petition challenging the “anti-love jihad” or anti-conversion laws enacted by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand but refused to stay the controversial legislation. The anti-conversion law enacted by the Madhya Pradesh state legislature is also under challenge before the state high court.