By Viraj Kumar
Student at CNLU Patna
Edited By Ms. Ragini Sehgal
Anti-conversion law seeks to prevent unlawful conversion performed using force, fraud, misrepresentation, or undue influence. It also ensures that the conversion is legitimate. No person shall convert or attempt to convert by the use of force or any fraud, and if it happens that means the conversion is unlawful. There are penalties and imprisonment for a term as imposed by the court in the case of breach of the law. In this blog, the Karnataka Anti-Conversion Bill will be discussed in detail.
The Background of Anti-conversion Law in India
Anti-conversion law had been introduced in India during the pre-independence phase (the 1930s-1940s) in the Hindu princely states including Raigarh, Kota, Bikaner, Patna, Surguja, Udaipur, and Kalahandi, as an attempt to preserve the Hindu’s religious identity against the Muslims. The purpose of introducing this law was to prevent the forceful and involuntary conversion of religion.
After the independence, many bills were introduced in parliament, but none of them was enacted as law due to the failure to gather the majority’s support. Hence, Anti-Conversion Law couldn’t be created at the national level. However, under the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution, it is said that the law-and-order is a subject under State List, the state has the power to enact such anti-conversion laws Orissa was the first state to enact anti-conversion legislation, the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act,1967. In total, there are eight states where the Anti-Conversion Law has been enacted till now.
The author completely agrees that unlawful conversion is happening till now in our country, even after it being a violation of human rights. The government should necessarily take appropriate action against such an activity. Some state governments have made strict laws against unlawful conversion, such laws are very much required in our society and some of the state governments have successfully framed the law very gracefully. But on other hand, the state governments have also misused the law for their political gain, they acquired votes from a specific religious stratum by misleading them about other religions that are acceptable in a secular state.
The Karnataka Anti-Conversion Bill
Recently, Karnataka Government also introduced an Anti-Conversion Bill in Karnataka’s Winter Assembly Session. The Chief Minister of Karnataka, Basavaraj Bommai said, “Religious conversions are not good for the society. Conversions would lead to problems in a family. It would trap the poor and vulnerable sections of the society who could fall for the conspiracies of some vested interests and hence the bill”.
He also said that there was no need to panic over this bill and further added that, “Some groups have expressed apprehension that the proposed bill would not target any group or be misused by the police or other authorities for witch-hunting. That would not happen. No one needs to worry about the bill”.
The bill, titled ‘The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021’, provides for the protection of the right to freedom of religion and prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to any other religion by force, fraud, misrepresentation, or undue influence.
The bill imposes imprisonment from 3-5 years along with a fine of Rs 25,000 and if the person is from SC/ST caste
, women, or minors, then the offender will face 3-10 years of imprisonment and at least INR 50,000 fine for the violation of the provision.
Article 25 and Anti-Conversion Laws
Conversion of religion is legal in India under Article 25 of the constitution (all the persons are equally entitled to the right freely to profess, practice, and propagate religion), any person can choose any religion of their own choice, provided that ‘it should be voluntary’. So, nobody can, through misrepresentation, through fraud, or with undue influence force anybody to change anyone’s religion, it is unlawful and a violation of fundamental right. Hereupon, many states in India adopted the Anti-Conversion Law in order to stop forceful conversion, it even upholds article 25. It is necessary to adopt law because if any x religious group saw that any other y religious group are misrepresented or forcibly convert people of x group to their religion, that will cause a breach of communal harmony between both religions.
In some of the states, there are instances when some religious organizations come to know about any religious conversion taking place in the state, they go to meet the victims and take steps to stop the conversion from their religion to another by making them aware that it is illegal to force anyone to convert to any religion.
The Anti-conversion acts are expected to yield fruitful consequences if the individuals co-operate with the State and work in accordance with the norms mentioned under the Act. The state should take suitable action against organizations that interrupt in anyone’s right to freedom of religion. Anti-Conversion law not only prevents the unlawful conversion, but also prevents the breach of communal harmony among all religions, thus consolidating unity and solidarity in the country.