Amid outrage by the opposition parties, the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, also known as the anti-conversion bill, finally became a law after the ordinance got an official nod from Karnataka Governor Thaawarchand Gehlot on Tuesday. From now on, forced conversions will become a punishable offence in the state which can attract up to ten years of imprisonment in some cases.
The contentious bill aimed at prohibiting unlawful conversions from one religion to another was passed in the state Assembly last year. It was pending before the Legislative Council where the ruling BJP is not in majority.
Since both the upper and lower houses in the state are prorogued, the Karnataka government chose the ordinance route on May 12. Questioning the urgency for an ordinance, Congress leader DK Shivkumar said, “I don’t know why the Karnataka government is in such a hurry (to pass the anti-conversion bill in its Cabinet meeting today through ordinance)…they should take an ordinance on some development agenda or giving employment to the youth.”
The Governor’s approval came a day after the Bengaluru Archbishop, Peter Machado requested him to hold back the ordinance.
The official gazette notification read, “Whereas the Karnataka Legislative Assembly and the Karnataka Legislative Council are not in session and the Honourable Governor of Karnataka is satisfied that the circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action to promulgate the Ordinance for the purposes hereinafter appearing”.
The ordinance goes on to mention that any person who is related by blood, marriage, adoption or in any way to a converted person can file a complaint against any such conversions. The offences will be treated as cognizable and non-bailable.
The perpetrators will be punished with imprisonment up to three years, which can also get extended to five years and shall be subjected to a fine of Rs 25,000. In case of mass conversion, the punishment is more severe and can extend up to ten years and “shall also be liable to fine of Rs one lakh”.
“The court shall also grant appropriate compensation payable by the accused to the victim of said conversion which may extend to maximum of Rs five lakh and shall be in addition to fine,” the ordinance read.
Any person, who is a repeat offender, can attract imprisonment of not less than five years and will also be liable to a fine of Rs two lakh.
“If the District Magistrate comes to a conclusion based on the said inquiry of the commission of an offence under this Ordinance, he shall cause the concerned police authorities to initiate criminal action for contravention of the provisions of section 3,” the ordinance further said.
(With inputs from PTI)