The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Basavaraj Bommai has proposed to introduce a bill to stop conversions carried out by force or incitement during the current 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-wing and other self-defense groups committing violence, sowing fear in those who , according to them, convert people.
In an interview, Karnataka Interior Minister Araga Jnanendra said the bill would help police take action against those who convert by force or incitement and would only prevent them from converting. vigilante attacks in the future. Excerpts
Why is the BJP government proposing to introduce this bill (law)?
We study all models implemented in other states and bring law here. These people (referring to missionaries) approach several people and convert them, and the family or anyone can object and be agitated, which will have a negative impact on law and order. They (missionaries) convert thousands of families every day as a strict goal to achieve. This is one of the reasons the bill was introduced. Some (religious) seers of Chitradurga also met their counterparts on this issue. Religious conversion is a social challenge, and even now the Lingayats are converting. If we do not stop these conversions Indian culture and basic religions will not survive. Members of society are asking us to bring forward this bill because it (the problem) has reached alarming levels. When a lawmaker (BJP) himself said his mother had 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 who wish to convert should be required to submit a request to the DC (Deputy Commissioner or District Collector), who will observe and investigate the case whether forced or instigated. If there is no problem, it will be approved and communicated to other departments. They (the people who convert) will lose their caste / religion status and all government benefits that come with it. This aspect did not exist before in Karnataka or elsewhere. Under article 25 of the Constitution, there is an article saying that there should be no conversion by incitement or force, but nothing to say what happens if it does. That is why we are bringing this bill forward.
You said the bill would also end dual benefits like Dalit Christians?
There is no category called Dalit Christians. They are called that. Why does Dalit go 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 lightened, any possibility of double benefit is closed. Let people who still belong to this category enjoy benefits such as career advancement, where the category of caste or religion is applicable.
Will this bill have retrospective applications to also verify past conversions?
All these aspects are under discussion. There is a provision to register a complaint with DC against such activities. They will investigate and can take appropriate action. They will notify the converted person and investigate to verify how the conversion went. We are in the process of formulating categories on who can be the complainant, which still needs to be finalized.
There have been targeted attacks on the Christian community and a sense of fear since the bill was introduced.
There is no fear as such. They (missionaries) sit in someone’s house and say 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 whether 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 politics. For Congress, it is a bank voting policy, and they have prepared certain communities. They said they would oppose the bill even without knowing what was in it. Congress itself drafted this bill in 2016 (in Karnataka), and our bill would go in the same direction. Senior Congress official Shamanur Shivashankarappa sent a circular to his community saying religious conversions are taking place and people should be prepared to fight this. We are not trying to vote for banking policy.
How will you gain their trust?
No question of fueling hatred. Some 10 to 15 Christian priests came to see me and I told them that there was no intention to create problems. I told them that this government is committed to giving all protection to follow their respective faith. If this law is made and given to the police, they will be there instantly. There will be no room for confusion and no clarity. Since the police now think twice before acting, others can take justice into their own hands. The police should be clear on this.
There are concerns that this bill will fuel the culture of self-defense as seen after the anti-cattle slaughter law.
Nothing like this (religious conversions) should happen, which would spoil the harmony of society, and people should remain in their religion peacefully. When there is a situation where illegality has become the norm, the police should stop it. When the police do not act, the public takes justice. Now the police are stopping this (cattle slaughter). When we enact a law and arm the police with it, there will be clarity because they do not know how to handle such incidents. With this law, the police will intervene and there will be no chance of public order problems.
Do you think such a law will completely prevent conversions?
We want to do it.
Are there any allegations that this law targets a community?
There are Christians or Muslims who become Hindus or vice versa. Let all these religious conversions be 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 been 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 this cannot be tolerated.
What powers will the DC have?
If the DC believes that it (a religious conversion) is not genuine, then the request may be rejected. An FIR will be filed, and there is a strong penalty clause which is not yet finalized. But it could range from 3 to 10 years in prison and sentence for everyone involved and depending on the violations.
There are allegations that the BJP government is introducing this bill to distract from the corruption allegations.
There is no connection between the two. We have been saying that we are going to introduce this bill for several years, and there is pressure from society.
Is the bill rushed?
Nothing of the kind. But every time we receive a bill every word has to 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 on this and it was not done in a hurry.
In Bengaluru, at least two comedy shows have been canceled. Is it fair 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 stuff. If it was just comedy, there would be no problem. No license or authorization is required to run it. But these people attack people’s feelings through their shows. In this spirit and to preserve 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 items.
What is the proposal to introduce the Special Marriage Law (Love Jihad)?
This is under discussion on how to do this.