Indian culture won’t survive if conversions not stopped: Karnataka minister

During an interview, Karnataka minister for home affairs Araga Jnanendra said the bill would help police take action against those converting by force or inducement and will only prevent vigilante attacks in the future. Excerpts
Karnataka minister for home affairs Araga Jnanendra said the anti-conversion bill would help police take action against those converting by force or inducement and prevent vigilante attacks in the future. (HT PHOTO)
Karnataka minister for home affairs Araga Jnanendra said the anti-conversion bill would help police take action against those converting by force or inducement and prevent vigilante attacks in the future. (HT PHOTO)
Updated on Dec 17, 2021 01:10 AM IST
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BySharan Poovanna, Belagavi

The Basavaraj Bommai-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has proposed to bring a bill to stop conversions done by force or inducement in the ongoing winter session of the Karnataka legislature. Since it was first proposed in September, the anti-conversion bill has fuelled attacks against the Christian community, with the right-wing and other vigilante groups perpetrating violence, instilling fear in those they believe are converting people.

During an interview, Karnataka minister for home affairs Araga Jnanendra said the bill would help police take action against those converting by force or inducement and will only prevent vigilante attacks in the future. Excerpts

Why is the BJP government proposing to bring this bill (law)?

We are studying all models implemented in other states and bringing a law here. These people (referring to missionaries) approach several people and convert them, and the family or anyone can take objection and get agitated, which will adversely impact law and order. They (missionaries) convert thousands of families every day like some strict target to achieve. This is one of the reasons for bringing the bill. Some (religious) seers in Chitradurga have also met with their counterparts on this issue. Religious conversion is a social challenge, and now even the Lingayats are being converted. If we don’t stop these conversions, Indian culture and core religions will not survive. We are being asked to bring this bill by members of society since it (the issue) has reached such alarming levels. When a (BJP) legislator himself said that his mother was converted, imagine the extent! They (missionaries) are doing this in every household and it is dividing families and villages. It happens in rural areas and urban centres on a large scale.

What are the provisions of this bill?

Those willing to convert would have to mandatorily submit an application to DC (deputy commissioner or district collector), who will observe and inquire the case if it was forcible or by inducement. If there is no issue, it will be approved and communicated to other departments. They (converting person) will lose their caste/religion status and all government benefits that come with it. This aspect was not there before in Karnataka or anywhere else. Under Section 25 of the Constitution, there is an article saying that there should be no conversion by inducement or force but nothing to state what happens if it happens. That is why we are bringing out this bill.

You said that the bill would also stop double benefits like Dalit Christians?

There is no category called Dalit Christians. They call themselves this. Why does Dalit go to Christianity? There are untouchable castes who may not get the respect they want. So, to live more peacefully and for mental peace, they go there. There is no SC in Christians or Muslims. So, when the bill is streamlined, any possibility of double benefits is closed. Let people who are still under that category get the benefits like job promotion, where the caste or religion category is applicable.

Will this bill have retrospective applications to check earlier conversions too?

All these aspects are being discussed. There is a provision to register a complaint with the DC against such activities. They will investigate and can take appropriate action. They will serve the converted person notice and probe to check how the conversion took place. We are formulating categories on who can be the complainant, which is yet to be finalised.

There have been targeted attacks on the Christian community and a sense of fear since the bill was proposed.

There is no fear as such. They (missionaries) sit in someone’s house and conduct prayers and start the religious conversion process. And others in the village have forced themselves into these houses and questioned their intentions and actions, probing if conversions were taking place. This law has been implemented in eight other states, and there have been no problems. Some people and Congress are creating this fear itself as part of their politics. For Congress, it is vote bank politics, and they have groomed some communities. They said that they will oppose the bill even without knowing what is in the bill. Congress itself drafted this bill in 2016 ( in Karnataka), and our bill would be on the same lines. Senior Congress leader Shamanur Shivashankarappa has sent out a circular within his community that religious conversions were happening and that people should get ready to combat this. We are not after vote bank politics.

How will you gain their confidence?

There is no question of fueling hate. Some 10-15 Christian priests came to me, and I told them there is no intention to create any 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 taking action, others may take up law in their own hands. Police should have clarity on this.

There are fears that this bill will fuel vigilante culture like it was seen after the anti-cattle slaughter law.

Nothing of this sort (religious conversions) should happen, which spoils the harmony of the society, and people should remain peacefully within their religion. When there is a situation where illegal has become the norm, the police should stop this. When the police fail to act, the public takes the law into their hands. Now the police are stopping this (cattle slaughter). When we make a law and arm the police with it, there will be clarity as they are not certain on how to handle such incidents. With this law, the police will intervene, and there will be no chance for law-and-order problems.

Do you think such a law will prevent conversions entirely?

We want to do it.

There are allegations that this law targets one community?

There are Christians or Muslims who become Hindu or vice versa. Let all these religious conversions become streamlined. So, when it happens, that person will lose the benefits of being a minority (if Christian or Muslim), and society too will know that the person has converted. We want to be impartial and transparent that all these should happen within the framework of the law. Otherwise, people would do things on their whims and fancies, and this cannot be tolerated.

What powers will the DC have?

If the DC thinks it (a religious conversion) is not genuine, then the application can be rejected. An FIR will be lodged, and there is a strong penal clause that is not yet finalised. But it could be between 3-10 years jail and penalty on all those involved and based on the violations.

There are allegations that the BJP government is introducing this bill to deflect attention from the corruption allegations.

There is no connection between the two. We have been saying that we will introduce this bill for many years, and there is pressure from society.

Is the bill being rushed?

Nothing of the sort. But whenever we get a bill, every single word has to be carefully drafted. The same process is being used for all bills. But since everyone is more curious about this one, you are finding out.

There has been enough time and discussion on this and not being done in haste.

In Bengaluru, at least two comedy shows were cancelled. Is it right for the police to do this?

The shows of two such people have been cancelled. When they were in different regions of the country, there were FIRs against them. They don’t just do comedy, but they criticise religion and other things. If it is just comedy, there would be no problem. No license or permission is required to perform it. But these people attack the sentiments of the people through their shows. With that in mind and to protect the harmony, the police had imposed certain restrictions, including denying them space. If a programme has the potential to create unrest, then the police will restrict it and order that no space is given to such elements.

What is the proposal to bring in the special marriages act (Love Jihad)?

This is under discussion on how to do it.

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Thursday, May 26, 2022