Though Siddaramaiah, who is now the Leader of Opposition denied it, later on personally going though the records in the Speaker’s office, accepted that as the CM he had then only asked the draft bill in this regard to be placed before the cabinet and no decision was taken in this connection, and hence it cannot be seen or projected as the intention of his government.
Siddaramaiah also said that the Congress vehemently opposed the bill, calling it “anti people”, “inhuman”, “anti constitutional”, “anti poor” and “draconian”, and urged that it should not be passed for any reason and should be withdrawn by the government.
Explaining the “Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021”, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minster J C Madhuswamy said that the bill’s initiation was started by the Law Commission of Karnataka under the advise of the then Congress government in 2016, led by Siddaramaiah, with couple of changes.
He said, “during the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in 2016, under the aegis of the Social Welfare Department, the Law Commission had prepared a draft bill, which was scrutinised by the scrutiny committee, but had not come before the cabinet. We have proceeded what they had initiated and left.”
As Siddaramaiah objected to it and asked whether there are documents to prove that the bill was initiated during his tenure, Madhuswamy said there are records to prove that the then Chief Minister asking for the draft bill to be prepared and placed before the cabinet.
He said, “under the instruction of the then Chief Minister the draft bill was prepared by the Law Commission, it has been scrutinised by the scrutiny committee, and there is your (Siddaramaiah) signature as CM on the draft bill, to bring it before the cabinet.” However, Siddaramaiah continued to maintain that the bill had not come before the scrutiny committee, headed by the then Law Minister, and sought for documents to prove it.
He even said that the then Law Minister in his government T B Jayachandra had made it clear to him that the bill was not initiated during their tenure. This resulted in some heated exchange between the ruling and opposition benches.
Following this, Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri, quoting from the records submitted to him by the government, said there is document signed by the then Minister Jayachandra stating that the scrutiny committee has discussed the draft bill and had approved it.
The Speaker also said that the (then) CM after reviewing the draft bill has asked it to be placed before the cabinet and it has the then CM Sidddaramaiah’s signature. This elicited “joyous” reaction from the ruling benches who shouted “shame, shame Congress”, “Congress hit wicket”, “Congress double standard”.
Intervening, senior BJP MLA and former Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa said, “If you don’t agree and object to bill and documents signed by you, then only god can save you. Honestly say that we (Congress government) had initiated the bill then and are objecting to it today in the given situation. We will accept it… The bill was then prepared by you, so please accept and pass it, if not you will become a joke .”
Senior Minister K S Eshwarappa stating that Siddaramaiah’s “truth has come out”, demanded that he should either apologise or resign as Leader of Opposition.
As a few Congress members continued to have some doubts regarding the records placed by the government before the House through the Chair, the Speaker with the consent of the government adjourned the House for some time, to make the records available to Siddaramaiah and other Congress leaders, to personally go through the records in his chambers.
As the House resumed after some time, Siddaramaiah said he has gone through the records and it is true that he has asked the draft bill prepared by the Law Commission to be placed before the cabinet. Noting that he knows the rules of business and parliamentary procedures, the CLP leader maintained that as the bill had not come before the cabinet, neither it was discussed there or any consent was given to it. “when such being the case, how can it be termed as the intention of the then government?” he asked. He also said that his government was not interested in the bill, hence it was not brought before he cabinet during the remaining 2.5 years of his government’s tenure.
Later debating on the contents of the bills, Siddaramaiah said his party opposed it and alleged that the bill introduced in Karnataka was identical to the one passed in UP, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. “It is cut and paste….who drafted it? I have doubts that some one known has drafted or dictated it.” “The bill is against and contravenes the provisions of the Constitution, so it won’t stand in the eye of the law, it will be struck done. There is already provisions in the Constitution and IPC to punish persons indulging in forceful conversion. This is an inhuman, unconstitutional and targeted particular religion,” he said.
The former CM also alleged that the bill was brought with an intention to raise emotive issues, to divert the attention of the people from COVID, floods and development related issues.
Earlier in the day, moving the bill for consideration, Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said that the law was not against any religion and eight states have passed and are implementing such a law and Karnataka would become the ninth one.
Noting that religious conversion has become a menace and quoting example of Hosadurga MLA Goolihatti Shekhar’s recent statement that his mother has been converted to Christanity, he said the issue of conversion has created friction in the society, especially in rural areas, and there has been incidents of suicide in Udupi and Mangaluru recently in cases related to conversion.
He said, though the constitution prohibits conversion by force or with allurements, there was no penal clause, which has been provisioned in this bill.
The “Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021”, provides for protection of 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.
The bill proposes an imprisonment from three to five years with a fine of Rs 25,000, while for violation of provisions with respect to minors, women, SC/ST, offenders will face imprisonment from three to 10 years and a fine of not less than Rs 50,000.
The bill also makes provisions for the accused to pay up to Rs five lakh as compensation to those who were made to convert, and with regards to cases of mass conversion the bill proposes 3-10 years jail term and a fine of up to Rs one lakh. It also states that any marriage which has happened for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion, either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage, shall be declared as null and void by the family court. Where the family court is not established, the court having jurisdiction to try such case, on a petition presented by either party thereto against the other party of the marriage.
The offense under this bill is non-bailable and cognizable. The bill that is also being opposed by Christian community leaders mandates that the persons who wish to convert to another faith shall give a declaration in a prescribed format at least 30 days in advance to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate specially authorised by the District Magistrate in this regard of his residing district or place of birth within the state.
Also the religious converter who performs the conversion shall also give 30 days advance notice in a format, to the District Magistrate or the Additional District Magistrate. Also, the person who wishes to convert will lose the religion of his or her origin and facilities or benefits attached with it, including reservations; however, one is likely to receive the benefits entitled to, in the religion he or she converts to.