The draft of Karnataka’s anti-conversion Bill was reportedly cleared by the Karnataka Cabinet on Monday, December 20.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai file picture
news Law Monday, December 20, 2021 - 16:00

The draft of the Karnataka anti-conversion Bill contains portions of a similar law that has been stayed by another state’s High Court for violating an individual’s fundamental rights. The draft of the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 says that any conversion by or after marriage is illegal, and the ‘converter’ in some cases may even face up to ten years in jail. Just months ago, Gujarat High Court had stayed a similar provision introduced in the state, holding that such a provision presumes marriage to be a medium for the purpose of unlawful conversion.

In Gujarat, a Bill amending a 2003 anti-conversion law was brought in by the state’s BJP-led government in 2021 and received the Governor’s assent in May 2021. The new law amended Section 3 — which earlier stated, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet such conversion.” Now, through the amendment, the words “by any fraudulent means,” were changed to “or by any fraudulent means or by marriage or by getting a person married or by aiding a person to get married nor”. Through this, the state criminalised conversion after marriage. 

“A marriage is solemnised by a person of one religion with a person of another religion without force or by allurement or by fraudulent means and such marriages cannot be termed as marriages for the purposes of unlawful conversion,” the Gujarat High Court had said, staying four sections of Gujarat’s 2003 Act itself, including the 2021 amendment.

Karnataka’s new Bill also says the same thing. Section 3 of the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 states: “Prohibition of conversion from one religion to another religion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion allurement or marriage.No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet or conspire such conversion.”

In Gujarat, this Section was challenged in the High Court, and in August 2021, the Gujarat High Court stayed the provision. 

“A plain reading of Section 3 would indicate that any conversion on account of marriage is also prohibited… prima facie on a plain reading of Section 3 of the 2003 Act, we feel that marriage inter-faith followed by conversion would amount to an offence under the 2003 Act. Marriage itself and a consequential conversion is deemed as an unlawful conversion attracting penal provisions,” the Gujarat High Court had said.

The HC cited the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Hadiya case, and said, “From the perception of the common man, it appears that merely because a conversion occurs because of marriage, it per se cannot be held to be an unlawful conversion or a marriage done for the purpose of unlawful conversion,” the High Court had held in August this year. 

The High Court had also stayed Section 6A of the Gujarat Act, which places the burden of proof on the parties entering into an interfaith marriage to prove that the marriage was not on account of any fraud, allurement or coercion.

This clause is there in the Karnataka draft Bill as well. The law says that the person who is the ‘converter’ needs to prove that the marriage was not solemnised on account of any fraud, allurement or coercion. Section 12 of the draft Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 says, “The burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, lies on the person who has caused the conversion and where such conversion has been facilitated by any person on such person.” 

“This again puts the parties validly entering into an inter-faith marriage in great jeopardy,” the Gujarat High Court had said. It further said that the Act deems to say that an inter-faith marriage itself is “presumed to be a medium for the purposes of unlawful conversion.”

This can be said about parts of Karnataka’s draft Bill as well, as they are exactly what the Gujarat High Court had held was violative of the citizen’s rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The draft Bill criminalises the conversion of people who convert or try to convert others by ‘fraudulent means’ or by marriage, and in case someone wants to convert to another religion voluntarily, there is a lengthy process in place and this applies to inter-faith marriages too. The draft Bill was reportedly cleared by the Karnataka Cabinet on Monday, December 20.

Also read: 10 yr jail, lengthy process to change religion: Karnataka’s draft anti-conversion Bill

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.