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Karnataka’s draft anti-conversion Bill:

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

Context:

The Karnataka government has prepared an anti-conversion Bill — which seems to be modeled after a similar law introduced by the state of Uttar Pradesh.

  • The draft of the Bill indicates that much like in Uttar Pradesh, this proposed law aims at penalising people who convert or try to convert others by ‘fraudulent means’ or by marriage.

 

Highlights of the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021:

  1. Any person found guilty of unlawfully converting another person will face a minimum jail term of three to five years and a fine of Rs 25,000.
  2. If the person ‘unlawfully converted’ is either a minor or a woman or belongs to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes, the punishment is more — a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum of ten years imprisonment, and Rs 50,000 fine.
  3. In cases of ‘mass conversion’, the accused person can face three to ten years in prison and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
  4. An appropriate court will order the accused person to pay compensation to the “victim of conversion and this amount can go up to Rs 5 lakh, and must be paid by the accused over and above the fine under the law.
  5. In case someone wants to convert to another religion voluntarily, there is a lengthy process in place and this applies to inter-faith marriages too.

 

Challenges ahead:

some of the provisions that the Karnataka government is aiming to introduce under its anti-conversion laws were stayed in another BJP-ruled state – Gujarat. In 2020, the Gujarat government had also brought in an amended anti-conversion law.

However,  the Gujarat High Court had stayed some of the provisions in August 2021 — provisions like the one that places the burden of proof on those entering into an inter-faith marriage.

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

 

Background:

States such as UP and MP have already brought strong laws against forced conversions. Haryana and Karnataka had also announced intentions to enact such laws.

  • But, the proponents say the recent events in the country proved that it is a pan-Indian racket and hence requires a Central law.”

 

Rationale behind the enactment of anti-conversion laws:

  1. Threats of forceful conversion.
  2. Problem of Inducement or allurement.
  3. Religious conversion is not a Fundamental Right.

 

What do critics say?

Such laws have come under sharp criticism from several legal scholars who had contended that the concept of ‘love jihad’ did not have any constitutional or legal basis.

  • They have pointed to Article 21 of the constitution which guarantees individuals the right to marry a person of one’s choice.
  • Also, under Article 25, freedom of conscience, the practice and conversion of religion of one’s choice including not following any religion, are also guaranteed.

 

Supreme Court on Marriage and Conversion:

  1. The Apex Court of India in its several judgments has held that the state and the courts have no jurisdiction over an adult’s absolute right to choose a life partner.
  2. The Supreme Court of India, in both the Lily Thomas and Sarla Mudgal cases, has confirmed that religious conversions carried out without a bona fide belief and for the sole purpose of deriving some legal benefit do not hold water.
  3. Salamat Ansari-Priyanka Kharwar case of Allahabad High Court 2020: The right to choose a partner or live with a person of choice was part of a citizen’s fundamental right to life and liberty (Article 21).

 

Need of the hour:

  1. There is a need for uniformity: Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights mentions everyone has the right to freedom of religion including changing their faith. Since it is a state subject, the Centre can frame a model law like Model law on contract farming etc.
  2. States while enacting anti-conversion laws should not put any vague or ambiguous provisions for the person who wanted to convert of his own will.
  3. The anti-conversion laws also need to include a provision to mention the valid steps for conversion by minority community institutions.
  4. People also need to be educated about the provisions and ways of Forceful conversions, Inducement or allurement, etc.

 

Insta Curious:

Did you know that the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (SMA) was enacted to facilitate the marriage of couples professing different faiths? Reference

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. About Article 21.
  2. Article 25.
  3. About SMA.
  4. States which have passed anti-conversion laws.

Mains Link:

The right to choose a partner or live with a person of choice was part of a citizen’s fundamental right to life and liberty. Discuss.

Sources: the Hindu