The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Basavaraj Bommai has proposed to introduce a bill to end conversions by force or incitement in the ongoing winter session of the Karnataka legislature. Since it was first proposed in September, the anti-conversion bill has fueled attacks on the Christian community, the right and other vigilante groups carrying out violence, instilling fear in those who believe in converting people.
In an interview, Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said the bill would help police take action against those who convert by force or incitement and will only prevent vigilante attacks in the future. Extracts
Why is the BJP government proposing to introduce this bill (law)?
We are studying all the models implemented in other states and bringing a law here. These people (referring to missionaries) approach several people and convert them, and the family or anyone can oppose and agitate, which will have a negative impact on law and order. They (the missionaries) are converting thousands of families every day as a strict goal to achieve. This is one of the reasons the bill was introduced. Some seers (religious) from Chitradurga have also met their counterparts on this issue. Religious conversion is a social challenge, and now even Lingayats are converting. If we don’t stop these conversions, Indian culture and core religions will not survive. Members of society are asking us to introduce this bill because it (the problem) has reached alarming levels. When a lawmaker (BJP) himself says his mother has converted, imagine the magnitude! They (missionaries) do this in every home and it divides families and villages. This happens in rural areas and large-scale urban centers.
What are the provisions of this bill?
Those wishing to convert are required to submit an application to the DC (Deputy Commissioner or District Collector), who will observe and investigate the case if it was coerced or incited. If there is no problem, it will be approved and communicated to other departments. They (the person who converts) will lose their caste/religion status and all government benefits that go with it. This aspect did not exist before in Karnataka or elsewhere. Under Section 25 of the Constitution there is a section saying there should be no conversion by inducement or coercion, but nothing to say what happens if it happens. That is why we are introducing this bill.
You said the bill will also stop double benefits like Dalit Christians?
There is no category called Dalit Christians. They are so called. Why do Dalits convert to Christianity? There are untouchable castes who may not get the respect they want. So, to live more serenely and for mental peace, they go there. There is no SC among Christians or Muslims. Thus, when the bill is simplified, any possibility of double benefits is closed. Let people who still fall into this category enjoy benefits such as job promotion, when the caste or religion category is applicable.
Will this bill have retrospective applications to check past conversions as well?
All these aspects are under discussion. There is a provision to register a complaint with the DC against such activities. They will investigate and may take appropriate action. They will serve the converted person with a notice and an investigation to verify how the conversion took place. We are in the process of formulating categories of who the complainant may be, which have yet to be finalized.
There have been targeted attacks on the Christian community and a sense of fear since the bill was proposed.
There is no fear as such. They (missionaries) sit in someone’s house and lead prayers and begin the process of religious conversion. And others in the village forced their way into these homes and questioned their intentions and actions, probing if any conversions were taking place. This law has been implemented in eight other states, and there have been no problems. Some people and Congress themselves create this fear as part of their policy. For Congress, it’s the policy of the vote banks, and they’ve healed certain communities. They said they would oppose the bill even without knowing what is in it. Congress itself drafted this bill in 2016 (in Karnataka), and our bill would do the same. Congress leader Shamanur Shivashankarappa sent a circular to his community saying that religious conversions were taking place and people should be prepared to fight against it. We are not after the politics of voting banks.
How will you gain their trust?
It is not a question of fueling hatred. Some 10 to 15 Christian priests came to me and I told them there was no intention of causing trouble. I told them that this government is committed to providing all the protection necessary to follow their respective faiths. If this law is made and handed over to the police, they will be there instantly. There will be no room for confusion and no clarity. Since the police are now thinking twice before acting, others can take the law into their own hands. The police should have some clarification on this.
There are fears that this bill will fuel a culture of self-defense as seen after the law against cattle slaughter.
Nothing like this (religious conversions) should happen, which spoils the harmony of society, and people should stay peacefully within their religion. When there is a situation where illegality has become the norm, the police should put an end to it. When the police do not act, the public gets justice. Now the police stop this (cattle slaughter). When we enact a law and arm the police with it, there will be clarity because they don’t know how to handle such incidents. With this law, the police will intervene and there will be no chance for public order problems.
Do you think such a law will prevent conversions entirely?
We want to do it.
There are allegations that this law targets a community?
There are Christians or Muslims who become Hindus or vice versa. May all these religious conversions become rationalized. So when this happens, that person will lose the benefits of being a minority (whether Christian or Muslim), and society too will know that the person has converted. We want to be impartial and transparent so that all of this happens within the framework of the law. Otherwise, people would do things according to their whims and fancies, and that cannot be tolerated.
What powers will the DC have?
If the DC believes he (a religious conversion) is not genuine, then the application may be rejected. An FIR will be filed, and there is a strong penalty clause which is not yet finalized. But it could be between 3 and 10 years in prison and a sentence for everyone involved and depending on the violations.
There are allegations that the BJP government is introducing this bill to divert attention from corruption allegations.
There is no connection between the two. It has been said for several years that we will table this bill, and there is pressure from society.
Is the bill rushed?
Nothing of the kind. But every time we receive a bill, every word must be carefully crafted. The same process is used for all invoices. But since everyone is more curious about this one, you find out.
There has been enough time and discussion about this and it hasn’t been rushed.
In Bangalore, at least two comedy shows have been cancelled. Is it okay for the police to do this?
The shows of two of these people have been canceled. When they were in different parts of the country, there were FIRs against them. They don’t just do comedy, but they criticize religion and other things. If it was just comedy, there would be no problem. No license or permission is required to run it. But these people attack people’s feelings through their shows. In this spirit and to protect the harmony, the police had imposed certain restrictions, in particular by denying them space. If a program has the potential to create unrest, the police will limit it and order that no space be given to such elements.
What is the proposal to introduce the Special Marriage Law (Love Jihad)?
This is under discussion on how to do it.