The Karnataka cabinet agreed to overturn the anti-conversion law enacted by the previous Bharatiya Janata Party government on Thursday. The repeal legislation will be filed during the upcoming legislative session, which starts on July 3.
H. K. Patil, the Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs informed reporters after the cabinet meeting that the proposed bill to repeal the changes made by the BJP government in 2022 had received cabinet approval. Patil stated, “The Cabinet discussed the anti-conversion bill. We have approved the bill to repeal the changes that were brought in by them (BJP government) in 2022. It will be tabled during the session starting from July 3.”
Despite opposition from the Congress party, the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act, commonly known as the anti-conversion law, was implemented in 2022. This legislation aimed to safeguard the right to freedom of religion while prohibiting unlawful conversions accomplished through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, or fraudulent means.
The act prescribed imprisonment ranging from three to five years, along with a fine of Rs 25,000, for violators. For offences committed against minors, women, or members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST), the punishment increased to imprisonment from three to ten years, accompanied by a fine of no less than Rs 50,000. Additionally, in cases of mass conversions, the act stipulated imprisonment for a period of three to ten years and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.
It also declared marriages performed solely for the purpose of unlawful conversion or vice versa as null and void, subject to adjudication by the family court or any relevant court of jurisdiction.
Under the act, conversions required individuals to submit a declaration in a prescribed format to the district magistrate or an authorized additional district magistrate at least 30 days in advance. Similarly, religious converters conducting the conversion were obligated to provide a 30-day notice in the specified format to the district magistrate or the additional district magistrate.
The non-bailable and cognizable offense outlined in the law sparked controversy, prompting discussions around the potential loss of benefits and reservations for individuals who chose to convert from their original religion. Former Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, who presented the bill in the Assembly, had stated that those seeking conversion would forfeit the privileges associated with their original religion while potentially becoming eligible for benefits within the religion they convert to.
The Karnataka cabinet’s decision to repeal the contentious anti-conversion law signifies a significant shift in policy and sets the stage for renewed debates and discussions on religious freedom in the state.