Protest in India’s Karnataka Ahead of Talks on Anti-Conversion Bill, Media Banned in Assembly

© AP Photo / Aijaz RahiIndian activists and others hold placards and shout slogans denouncing a legislation tabled in the country's southern state of Karnataka, during a protest in Bengaluru, India, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021
Indian activists and others hold placards and shout slogans denouncing a legislation tabled in the country's southern state of Karnataka, during a protest in Bengaluru, India, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.12.2021
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In September, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government announced that they would pass an anti-conversion law to stop people being forced illegally to change their faith. Since then, opposition parties and activists have objected to the legislation, saying it targets minorities.
Opposition parties and hundreds of people from at least 40 socio-political organisations have protested in the Indian state of Karnataka to oppose the Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021 - otherwise known as the anti-conversion Bill - which was introduced by the state government on 21 December.
The members of these organisations even took to the streets in protest in the state capital Bengaluru on Wednesday.
While talking to the media, Bengaluru's Roman Catholic Archbishop, Peter Machado, who attended the protest, said: “Now that the contents of the Bill have been read by all, it has been found that it not only affects Christians but the larger society. It is a question of privacy, the question of marriage, the question of women, Dalits, and Muslims.”
“Karnataka is a progressive state in the country and has to give out a message to others that it is open to privacy, dignity and human rights,” he added.
The draft Bill proposes maximum punishment of 10-year imprisonment for forcible religious conversion of women, minors and people from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
It also requires those who wish to convert to another religion to file an application before the Deputy Commissioner two months in advance.

Media Barred From Attending Debate Over Bill Inside State Assembly

Members of the media also staged a protest after they were stopped from entering the Karnataka state assembly on Wednesday before the scheduled debate over the Bill.
The marshals stopped the media, saying they had been directed to do so by the State Assembly Speaker’s office. However, Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri said that he was not aware of any such edict.
Later, Kageri met the protesting media persons and said that no such order was issued by his office. The media was allowed to enter the assembly after meeting Kageri but the debate over the Bill was postponed until Thursday.
Former state chief HD Kumaraswamy condemned the media restrictions by the BJP-ruled Karnataka government.
In a tweet, he said: “[The BJP] are saying they will change the constitution [but] have now broken a pillar of our constitution by not allowing the fourth pillar of our democracy which is the media.”
“The Speaker says he doesn’t know about the media ban, but how come the media was sent a message not to attend the assembly, this is lapse of the speaker's office,” Kumaraswamy added.

What is the Anti-Conversion Bill?

The Right to Freedom of Religion Bill 2021, or anti-conversion Bill, was introduced in the Karnataka State Legislative Assembly on Tuesday during the Winter Session in Belagavi city.
The draft Bill prohibits conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, fraud, allurement or marriage.
“No person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, nor shall any person abet or conspire for conversions,” it says.
It, however, provides an exemption in the case of a person who “reconverts to his immediate previous religion” as “the same shall not be deemed to be a conversion under this Act”.
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