Published on: October 10, 2022
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Feni The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion of Religion Bill, 2022, has received the assent of Governor Thaawarchand Gehlot. The Bill was passed a few days ago by the Karnataka State legislature.
- Prohibition on forced conversion: A person will not force someone else to convert their religion by misrepresentation, allurement, fraud, or promise of marriage. However, the conversion of a person back to their immediate previous religion is permitted. Marriage for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion and any unlawful conversion for the sole purpose of marriage, are prohibited. Marriages in which a party wishes to change their religion will be solemnised after following the process of a wilful religious conversion.
- Complaints against forced conversions: Any converted person, any person associated to such person (by blood, marriage, or adoption), or their colleague may lodge a complaint against an unlawful conversion.
- Burden of proof: The burden of proof to show that a conversion was not forced or unlawful will lie on the person who has caused the conversion, and on the person who aids or abets such conversion.
- Procedure for undergoing conversion: A person who wants to wilfully convert his religion has to declare it to the District Magistrate (DM). A similar declaration will be given by the religious converter who performs the conversion ceremony. The DM will invite public objections to the proposed conversion twice – once before the conversion, and once afterwards. Objections are invited for the second time only if no objections were raised earlier. Upon receiving an objection, the DM will make an inquiry on the intention and purpose of the conversion. If the conversion is found to be unlawful, the DM may initiate criminal action.
- Offences and Penalties: Every offence under the Ordinance is cognizable and non-bailable. If an institution violates the provisions of the Bill, the person or persons in charge of the institution will be punished
Now, the legislation provides for the protection of the right to freedom of religion and prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.
Existing principles on religious conversion
- The first laws prohibiting forced religious conversions were the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967 and the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968.These laws prohibited religious conversions by force, fraud or inducement.
The constitutional validity of these laws was challenged before the Supreme Court on the grounds that:
- the laws violate the fundamental right to ‘propagate’ religion,
- The laws regulate religion (a Union List subject matter) and not public order (a State List subject matter).
- The Supreme Court (1977) held that the right to propagate religion does not include the right to convert anyone else. It includes spreading one’s religion by explaining the tenets of that religion. The Court also held that these laws regulate public order, and not religion. The laws are meant to preserve public order by prohibiting forced religious conversions.