Karnataka wants to fast-track anti-conversion legislation
The chief minister called on the governor to sign the bill without the assent of the Legislative Council (upper house). If it becomes law, the bill would make Karnataka the tenth Indian state to adopt such an anti-Christian measure. For the archbishop of Bangalore, the law will be used by “fringe elements and groups” to sow discord. Hence, he urges “the Governor not to give assent to the bill”. Many Indian States have adopted legislation dear to Hindu nationalists.
Bangalore (AsiaNews) – The Indian State of Karnataka plans to enact an anti-conversion law through an executive ordinance, signed by the State Governor, bypassing the Karnataka Legislative Council, the State’s upper house.
Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore, who is also president of the All Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights, spoke out against this today.
Karnataka is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). If the anti-conversion bill is approved, it would make the State the tenth Indian jurisdiction to have adopted such legislation.
Hindu extremist groups oppose conversions on the grounds that they are caused by proselytising and represent a threat to the relative balance among religious groups. In reality, the problem does not exist.
In Karnataka, a State of about 61 million, Christians are around 2 per cent of the population. Hindus are 84 per cent and Muslims, 13 per cent. These percentages are similar to the national averages and have remained stable for years.
Yet according to Hindu nationalists, an enemy is hard at work to undermine India’s Hindu identity, a very useful tool to promote their political agenda. In Karnataka this has meant more charges of “forced conversions" while the debate over the anti-conversion bill rages.
Although approved in December by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly (lower house), the bill had not yet passed the Legislative Council (upper house).
Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, a member of Prime Minister Modi's party, called on Governor Thawar Chand Gehlot, who promulgates laws, to bring it into force immediately with an ordinance, without even waiting for the end of the legislative process.
“This is sad and surely it will affect the harmonious relationship that we enjoy with members of all the communities in Karnataka,” said Archbishop Machado in a press release.
So far, “no incidents neither of conversion, nor of aggressive incidents against the Community” have been reported. “We cannot understand the sudden turn of events and what is there in the mind of the Government with the ordinance in hand, there is no doubt that the fringe elements and groups will try to create problems for the members of our Community as we have seen in the past and the Government is in no control of them.”
For the archbishop of Bangalore, following “democratic tradition, the Christian Community members will appeal to the Governor not to give assent to the bill, given the nature of the involvement of the Christian Community in the wider development of the State and Community in the matter of education, health care & social welfare. We are law abiding citizens and will surely put our trust in the Government to protect our interests and concerns.
“We have no difficulty in the Government taking action against any excesses or unlawful activities that are noticeable with concrete proofs,” the statement goes on to say. “We have every hope that the Governor, who is the head of the state will heed to our appeal and address our concerns, by not assenting to the Bill on anti-conversion in Karnataka.”
The ordinance would make Karnataka the 10th Indian jurisdiction to adopt anti-conversion legislation. The first one was Odisha (Orissa) as early as 1968, followed by Madhya Pradesh (1968) and Arunachal Pradesh (1978). But the dam broke with the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2000s.
As more States went down the same path, similar laws were adopted or reinforced: Chhattisgarh (2000), Gujarat (2003), Himachal Pradesh (2006), Jharkhand (2017), Uttarakhand (2018), and Uttar Pradesh (2020).
In the latter, India’s most populous State led by the Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, the governor signed the anti-conversion ordinance, which is what Karnataka wants its governor to do.
Laws in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand also consider converting for the purpose of marriage a form of forced conversion.
Two States, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, passed anti-conversion laws in 2002 and 2006 respectively but they were eventually scrapped.
In Tamil Nadu, the legislation was repealed after four years later in the wake of protests by the Christian community, while in Rajasthan, the local governor refused his assent.