By Abdulla Gaafarelkhalifa
On December 23, 2021, during the winter assembly of the legislative body of the state of Karnataka, India, the controversial Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021 was successfully passed. The bill explains that “No person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, nor shall any person abet or conspire for conversions”.
With the passing of this bill, conversions deemed “unlawful” will become illegal. The bill proposes imprisonment of three to five years with a fine of Rs 25,000 ($334.25 USD), while for violation of provisions towards minors, women, or lower caste individuals, offenders will face imprisonment from three to ten years and a fine of not less than Rs 50,000 ($668.50 USD).
The bill mandates that the person who wishes to convert to another faith shall give a declaration, in form, at least 30 days in advance, to a District Magistrate of their residing district or place of birth within the state. The converter who performs the conversion must also give 30 days notice, in form, to a District Magistrate. A prison term of six months to three years will be imposed on anyone who converts without notifying authorities; a term of one to five years imposed on those carrying out conversions without notification.
The new law also states that any marriage for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion shall be declared as null and void by the family court.
After the independence of India, initial anti conversion bills failed to attract parliamentary support in 1954 and 1960. The first state to successfully pass such a law was Orissa state, known as the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act of 1967. Other states followed, including Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand. Karnataka is now the tenth state in India to do so.
The public reaction to the bill has been related to an increase in hate crimes, particularly against Christians in the region. Just earlier in the same month, an anti-Christian book burning took place and a priest was chased by an intruder with a machete in the same state.