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Karnataka anti-conversion bill ‘fallacious’: Archbishop | Bengaluru

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Members of the Christian community under the aegis of Rev. Peter Machado, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Bengaluru, said that the Basavaraj Bommai-led government’s anti-conversion bill was an ‘arbitrary, fallacious and illogical move’ on Monday.

The delegation met Karnataka Governor Thawarchand Gehlot at the latter’s residence in Bengaluru and submitted a memorandum, asking the latter not to give his consent to the Protection of Religious Freedom Bill or anti-conversion bill.

“It is indeed a matter of great concern that the anti-conversion bill would become a tool for the fringe elements to take law into their own hands, and vitiate the atmosphere with provocations, false accusations, communal unrest in the otherwise peaceful state of Karnataka,” according to the memorandum.

The statements come days after the Basavaraj Bommai-led cabinet gave its approval to promulgate an ordinance to implement the bill, which has been stuck in the Upper house of the state legislature since December last year.

Modelled on similar laws to other Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the bill that was passed on December 23 in the lower house, amid strong opposition, was not placed before the council where the saffron party does not have a majority.

An ordinance can be brought for six months when the legislature is not in session. It has to be converted into law within six weeks of the start of a session, or else it lapses. The bill aims to restrict forceful conversions by “misrepresentation, force, fraud, allurement or marriage”.

The Congress, the Janata Dal (Secular) or JD(S), and a large section of activists and the civil society have opposed the bill, which they believe is an extension of the BJP’s policy to empower right-wing groups to target minorities and consolidate the majority under the umbrella of a Hindu vote bank.

The bill proposes imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of 25,000. For violation of provisions with respect to minors, women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, offenders will face imprisonment from three to 10 years and a fine of not less than 50,000.

The delegation of the Christian community said that the backward classes and minorities welfare departments of the state government had earlier issued an order to survey both official and non-official Christian missionaries and the institutions and establishments functioning in the state.

“When all the relevant data is already available (through the Census) with the Government, why do we need yet another futile exercise? Why is only Christian Minority Community is targeted and marked for this arbitrary, fallacious and illogical move? What is the motive that is driving them to do so?”

The delegation added that a few “stray and sporadic incidents of conversion should not portray the entire community in a bad light”.

They even pointed out that Census and other government-approved data show that the percentage of Christians has come down.

“But the facts and figures indicate that a lot of hue and cry, over religious conversion, is unrealistically magnified and grossly exaggerated,” it added.

Karnataka law minister J C Madhuswamy in December last year said former chief minister Siddaramaiah’s Congress government in 2016 directed the drafting of the bill and its scrutiny by the Law Commission. Madhuswamy said the bill was not then brought before the Cabinet. “We have taken the same bill and added a few more clauses to it,” Madhuswamy said.

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