The Karnataka Legislative Council on Thursday passed a Bill against religious conversions even as the Congress staged a walkout, reported the Hindustan Times.

The Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, had already been passed in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in December. However, it was not tabled in the Legislative Council, as the Bharatiya Janata Party at the time had 32 seats in the Upper House – six short of the majority mark.

The party now has 41 members in the Legislative Council.

The Karnataka Cabinet had then decided to pass an Ordinance to get a clearance for the Bill. An Ordinance is a temporary law passed by the president or a governor when Parliament or a state Assembly is not in session.

The ordinance was cleared by Karnataka Governor Thawarchand Gehlot on September 17. It was then required to be approved by the Assembly within six months or it will cease to be in effect.

During the debate on the Bill, Congress MLC Nagaraj opposed the law, saying that religious conversion was a private matter and a person’s right of choice.

Karnataka Law Minister JC Madhu Swamy, however, said the law only restricts forceful conversions.

“We haven’t made any amendments which can prevent volunteer conversion,” he said. “We have made amendments to restrict forceful conversions. We are protecting our religion, we have brought this Bill to stop forceful conversion. Nowhere we have restricted anybody’s desire.”

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.

Under the Bill, a person who engages in “forced conversion” will be punished with three to five years imprisonment. Forced conversions of members from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities 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 BJP such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have passed laws banning forced conversions.

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

On Thursday, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA CT Ravi expressed confidence that the Bill will be passed in the Legislative Council, ANI reported.

“No one supports conversion and we will not be scared of the mafia,” Ravi said. “The bill should pass.”

The Congress, however, questioned why the state government was in a hurry to pass the Bill.

“It is unfortunate as there are so many issues in state post-rain,” Congress MLC Nagaraj said. “What is the urgency of doing such things? They [BJP] want to polarise... this is not acceptable to people as they want to live in brotherhood.”