Religious groups in India have expressed dismay over the approval of the controversial anti-conversion bill in the country’s Karnataka state.
The Karnataka Cabinet led by Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai approved the draft of the bill on December 20, five days ahead of Christmas.
The state government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been pressing for the bill despite protests from various Christian leaders, including Catholic bishops.
“It is unfortunate that Basavaraj Bommai is leaning to the Sangh Parivar groups and ignoring the minorities in the state,” said Father Faustine Lobo, spokesperson of the Karnataka Regional Bishops’ Council.
The Sangh Parivar has been described with monikers spanning the spectrum from “patriotic Hindus” and “Hindu nationalist.” It is the umbrella organization for scores of affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Corps) that strive to establish a Hindu nation in India.
If enacted, the bill titled “Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religious Bill,” will prohibit conversion from one religion to another religion by “misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage.”
The bill states that any aggrieved person, parents, brother, sister or any other person related by blood, marriage or adoption can file first information report against such an act.
Violators can be imprisoned from three years to 10 years, and fined from 25,000 to 1 million rupees.
“The proposed anti-conversion law is nothing but a legal permit for radical Hindu nationalists to attack and harass religious minorities,” said Pastor Sunil Mahade in a report on the International Christian Concern website.
“The proposed anti-conversion law is unconstitutional as it violates the right to freedom of faith. There is absolutely no need of this law,” it added.
“There are enough clauses in the existing constitution to deal with forced or fraudulent conversions,” said Mahade.
While Karnataka has still not officially enacted the promised anti-conversion law, many radical Hindu nationalists on the ground are acting as if the law already exists, said the ICC report.
Increased attacks by radical Hindu nationalists across Karnataka has many Christians concerned about what will happen when the anti-conversion law is enacted. – with reports from Matters India and International Christian Concern