Karnataka’s upper house approves toughest anti-conversion law
by Nirmala Carvalho

Adopted by the state’s lower house in December, the legislation allows anyone to file a complaint of forced conversion with the burden of proof of good faith on the convert. Conversions now must go through a long bureaucratic process provided no one raises any objections. The Catholic Church in Karnataka deems the new law “bitter, brutal and abrasive in its nature” and will challenge it “in its totality.”

Bengaluru (AsiaNews) – Karnataka’s Legislative Council (upper house), which is controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, passed a controversial anti-conversion law on Friday.

The main opposition parties voted against it, arguing that such a law violates freedom of religion enshrined in India’s constitution. For the state government, the law will only protect people from forced conversions, which, it says, are becoming more and more frequent.

Karnataka’s lower house, the Legislative Assembly, had already approved the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021, known as the anti-conversion bill, last December. Soon after, the state government issued an “urgent” executive order to stop forced conversions.

“Karnataka's anti-conversion law, which is effective since May and retroactive, has draconian clauses to terrorise Christians in Karnataka,” said Sajan K George, president of the Bengaluru-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), speaking to AsiaNews.

George explains that, “Any converted person, his parents, brother, sister or any other person who is related to him by blood, marriage or adoption or in any form associated or colleague may lodge a complaint of such conversion; thus, leaving room to harass anyone without rhyme or reason.”

“The punishment stipulated for a victim of trumped-up charges is worse than for a murderer,” he adds, namely, “three years, but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to a fine of Rs 25,000.

“In case of a conversion involving a minor, a person of unsound mind, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe,” the sentence “may extend to 10 years”.

The procedure to change religion, which is enshrined in the Indian Constitution, is clearly vexatious.

“A would-be convert and the cleric performing the conversion must file a special form and go before a district magistrate and give a 30-day advance notice. The latter will post the request upon a notice board asking for any objections.

“Even when the conversion does take place, the convert has to fill out a new form and appear within 21 days before the magistrate to establish his identity and confirm the contents of the declaration.”

Lastly, in case of accusations of forced conversion, the “burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, lies with the person who has caused the conversion and on the abettor who aids or abets such conversion.”

Local Christian communities greeted with dismay the new law approved by Karnataka’s upper house.

“The contents of the Act remain bitter, brutal and abrasive in its nature from what was introduced as a bill nine months back and now translated into an Act,” reads a press release by the Archdiocese of Bangalore.

“The Metropolitan Archbishop Peter Machado, the Bishops of Karnataka, all Christian leaders and others who uphold the secular fabric of our democratic society will take a decision to find a legal recourse and  challenge the Act in its totality.

“As our strong objection to this said Bill is already pending before the Hon'ble Supreme Court and the High Court, we refrain from commenting further on this matter.”