Amid outrage from opposition parties, the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, also known as the Anti-Conversion Bill, has finally become law after receiving formal approval from Karnataka Governor Thawarchand Gehlot on Tuesday. From now on, forcible conversion will become a punishable offense in the state, which in some cases can lead to imprisonment for up to ten years.
The controversial bill aimed at banning illegal conversions from one religion to another was passed in the state assembly last year. It was pending in the Legislative Assembly where the ruling BJP did not have a majority.
Since both the upper and lower chambers of the state have been suspended, the Karnataka government opted for the May 12 ordinance. Questioning the urgency of an ordinance, Congress leader DK Shivakumar said, “I don’t know why the Karnataka government is in such a hurry (to pass an anti-conversion bill in the cabinet today through an ordinance) … they should take an ordinance on a development agenda or youth employment.” “
The governor’s approval came a day after Bengaluru Archbishop Peter Machado asked him to withhold the ordinance.
“Although the Karnataka Legislative Assembly and the Karnataka Legislative Assembly are not in session and the Hon’ble Governor of Karnataka is satisfied that a situation exists which will necessitate immediate action to issue an ordinance for his purpose,” the official gazette said.
The ordinance stipulates that any person in any way related to blood, marriage, adoption or conversion may file a complaint against any such conversion. Offenses will be treated as cognizable and non-bailable.
Offenders will be sentenced to up to three years in prison, which can be extended to five years and a fine of up to Rs 25,000. In the case of proselytizing, the punishment is more severe and can extend up to ten years, with a fine of up to one lakh rupees.
The ordinance states that “the court shall pay the appropriate compensation to be paid by the accused to the victim of such conversion which may extend up to a maximum of five lakh rupees and may be in addition to the fine”.
Anyone who is a repeat offender could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to Rs 200,000.
“If the district magistrate reaches a decision on the basis of the aforesaid investigation of a crime commission under this ordinance, he shall compel the concerned police authority to take criminal action for violation of the provisions of section 3,” the ordinance added.
(With input from PTI)