THE KARNATAKA ANTI- CONVERSION BILL: IS IT REALLY CONTROVERSIAL?

Despite opposition protests, the Karnataka legislative Assembly passed the Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, often known as the anti-conversion bill, on Thursday. It makes it illegal to convert from one religion to another through deception, coercion, fraud, allurement, or marriage.

The Bill states, “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.”

It does, however, exempt a person who "reconverts to his immediate former religion" from the law, stating that "the same shall not be construed to be a conversion under this Act."

Family members or anyone else who is related to the person who is being converted can make complaints about conversions under the proposed legislation. For those breaking the legislation in the general category, a jail term of three to five years and a fine of Rs 25,000 has been recommended, while those converting juveniles, women, or members of the SC/ST communities face a jail term of three to ten years and a fine of Rs 50,000.

RECOURSE PROVIDED UNDER THE NEW BILL

The bill also provides for the payment of Rs 5 lakh in compensation to victims of conversion attempts by those attempting the conversion (on court orders), as well as double penalties for repeat offences. A family court or a jurisdictional court can declare marriages conducted with the goal of conversion null and void. Under the proposed law, conversion is considered a cognizable and non-bailable offence that can be tried in a magistrate's court.

After the law takes effect, anyone planning to change to another religion must tell the district magistrate two months in advance. According to the draught Bill, the individual performing the conversion must give one month's notice, and the district magistrate must conduct an investigation through the police into the true purpose of the conversion.

Persons who convert will face a prison sentence of six months to three years, while those who carry out conversions will face a sentence of one to five years if they do not alert the authorities. The person who is converted must also notify the district magistrate within 30 days of the conversion and appear before the magistrate to prove their identity. The conversion will be considered null and void if you do not notify the district magistrate.

Once the conversion is certified, the district magistrate will notify the revenue authorities, social welfare, minority, backward classes, and other departments, who will then take steps to determine what benefits and reservations the individual is entitled to.

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

• Its goal is to prevent conversion through deception, force, fraud, marriage allurement, compulsion, and undue influence.

• Protection of the right to religious liberty- It protects the right to religious liberty and prohibits the conversion of people from one faith to another without their consent.

CRITICISM

The bill is unconstitutional because it attempts to disrupt the state's calm and distract public attention for political purposes and it is unconstitutional and infringes on fundamental rights. It infringes on a person's rights.

CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY

Various doubts concerning the law's legitimacy have been raised, thus it's important to clarify the legal stance on the subject. It must be understood that the legislature is free to enact any law it sees fit, as long as it does not violate any of the Constitution's limitations.

The most important need for every law is that it does not infringe any fundamental rights. Article 25, which ensures "freedom of conscience and free profession, practise, and dissemination of religion," is the concerned fundamental right in this case. The provision's first line states that this right is "subject to public order, morals, and health, as well as the other provisions of this Part." In layman's terms, the clause states that anybody can practise, profess, and propagate their religion as long as it does not interfere with public order, morals, health, or other fundamental rights.

To see if a law violates Article 25, we must look to see if it falls within one of the exceptions: public order, morality, health, or the preservation of other basic rights.

The legislature has specifically invoked the exemption of 'public order,' which is being jeopardised by the state's conversion initiatives. On this, one should not rely just on the state's word. However, it is generally established that a legislature cannot be blamed for having a nefarious motive (Karnataka Assembly in this case). It was decided by the Supreme Court in K. Nagaraj & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr. "The legislature as a whole cannot be accused of passing a legislation for a non-legislative purpose." If no arguments are given that appear to be justified based on the provisions adopted by it. Its justifications for enacting legislation, or those mentioned in the Objects and Reasons.

This clarifies that when a state legislature passes a law, its aims and justifications must be taken seriously. As a result, in the case of this statute, it must be assumed that the size of conversion operations in the state posed a threat to public order. If someone challenges and claims that this is not the case, they will have to prove to the court that conversion activities do not pose a threat to public order.

OTHER STATES WITH SIMILAR LEGISLATIONS

Religious conversion is prohibited in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal

Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, made Odisha the first state to pass anti-conversion laws. The following year, Madhya Pradesh passed a similar law.

• Breaching the laws can result in penalties, imprisonment, or both, with sentences ranging from one to three years in prison and fines ranging from 5,000 to 50,000.

• If women, children, or members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) are converted, several of the laws call for harsher penalties.

The Karnataka law, which tries to invalidate a marriage if it is performed in fulfilment of a marriage pledge, is constitutionally valid. Conversion to or from a religion should be motivated by the teachings and principles of the faith in question, not by the religion of the spouse.

It should be mentioned that under Karnataka law, an annulment of marriage can only be achieved if one of the parties files a petition with the court. It doesn't rule out the possibility of such a union. Such a petition can only be filed if one of the spouses feels betrayed as a result of the conversion; the law only allows a remedy for this case. As a result, it will be impossible to establish that any component of the Karnataka law violates the Constitution's mandate or restricts religious freedom.

The spectre of forced conversions has recently dominated India's political scene; it is also undeniably true that some forced conversions have been carried out by groups from all of India's main religious communities. The Bill, on the other hand, is not an appropriate answer to the problem due to a host of legal and practical flaws.



This article is written by Mohd Saqib Husain, of Lloyd Law College.

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