The Karnataka Cabinet on Thursday decided to promulgate an ordinance against forced religious conversions, The News Minute reported.

The Karnataka government will take up a Bill on the matter in the next Assembly session, state Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said, according to ANI.

The state Legislative Assembly had passed proposed legislation – the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill – in December. However, it is currently pending in the Legislative Council.

Once the ordinance is promulgated, the Assembly will have to approve it within six months, failing which it will cease to be in effect.

An ordinance is a temporary law passed by the president or a governor when Parliament or a state Assembly is not in session.

The Karnataka anti-conversion bill says that “conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, allurement or marriage’’ is prohibited.

Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar questioned why the state government was in “such a hurry” to pass the ordinance, ANI reported. He said that the government should pass an ordinance on “some development agenda or giving employment to the youth” instead.

Under the Bill, a person who engages in “forced conversion” will be punished with three to five years’ imprisonment. Forced conversions of children, women, persons from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes will lead to a jail term of three to ten years, and a fine of Rs 50,000.

In recent years, several other states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have passed laws banning forced conversions.

The proposed law in Karnataka is more stringent than the ones in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, which have a minimum jail term of one year.

In December, state Home Minister Araga Jnanendra had said that the Bill is aimed at dealing with instances of “love jihad” as well, The Indian Express reported. “Love jihad involves marriage and there are provisions to curb marriages for the purpose of conversion [in the Bill],” he had said.

“Love jihad” is a conspiracy theory espoused by Hindutva activists, who allege that it involves Muslim men luring Hindu women to marry them with the intention to convert them to Islam. However, the Union government had itself told the Lok Sabha in 2019 that no “case of ‘love jihad’ had been reported by any of the central agencies”. The National Commission for Women also does not maintain any data about “love jihad”.