06/15/2023, 19.48
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Karnataka to scarp anti-conversion law

by Nirmala Carvalho

A month after defeating the BJP, the new INC-led state government announced plans to scrap the anti-conversion law imposed by Hindu nationalists. Similar legislation remains in force in nine Indian states. Archbishop Machado hopes “other states will also follow suit and scrap their laws.”

Bengaluru (AsiaNews) – A month after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was defeated in state elections, Karnataka’s new government announced today that it will repeal the state’s controversial anti-conversion law.

Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister H. K. Patil said that the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act would be repealed in the next session of the state legislature, starting 5 July.

The legislation was adopted on 17 May 2022 under the previous, BJP-dominated state assembly despite protests by civil society groups and opposition parties.

It provided for three to five years in prison and a RS25,000 fine for “forcibly” converting people, with stricter penalties if the conversion involved minors, women and people from marginalised groups.

The Indian National Congress (INC), which won last month’s election by a wide margin, pledged to scrap the law during the election campaign.

“It was discriminatory, anti-constitutional and unnecessary,” said Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore speaking to AsiaNews. “I hope it (the repeal bill) will have a comfortable passage in the assembly when it is brought up for discussion.”

For the prelate, “Christians will always work under the Constitution of India, in the interest of the state and the nation, rendering our service to all, irrespective of caste and creed, reaching out especially to the poor and the marginalised.”

Despite Karnataka’s decision, anti-conversion laws will remain on the books in nine of India’s 36 states: Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

But Karnataka is not the first state to take a U-turn. In 2002, Tamil Nadu abrogated a 1998 law adopted by the state assembly when it was dominated by Hindu nationalists. In Rajasthan, the state governor refused to sign into law an anti-conversion bill approved by the legislative assembly in 2006.

Meanwhile, Hindu extremists are pushing for a Union-wide anti-conversion that would be applicable across the whole country.

For Archbishop Machado, wherever anti-conversion laws are approved, attacks against Christians increase.

Such laws “encourage fringe elements to attack and cause harm to Christians,” he lamented. “They create doubts, mistrust and disharmony between communities. I hope the other states will also follow suit and scrap their laws.”

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