The following is the full text of the speech made by Shri K J George, former Minister and MLA, Sarvajnanagar (Bengaluru City), before the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 (popularly known as anti-conversion Bill).
We are discussing a very serious issue today. The Law Minister said this Bill is not against any religion. I agree with his statement. My fellow legislator, Shri Gulihatti Sekhar is a good friend of mine. Speaking in this House, he mentioned about his mother converting to Christianity. He himself said she had converted because of her own belief….But he also claimed that people were being converted at the instigation of the church.
I can tell you from my experience that I have been a legislator of this Assembly because of the support from the people of all religions, castes and creed. I have been elected five times. I have functioned as a Minister. We all have to work according to the Constitution.
Being a Christian, I was pained by what Gulahatti Sekhar mentioned. I go to the church regularly. In none of the churches they talk of conversion. They extend their good wishes to those ruling the State – be it BJP, JD(S) or Congress – and pray for them. Most Christians want peace. But, there will be bad elements, just like there are such elements among Hindus and Muslims also. That’s why we have the laws and the government in power is expected to take action as per law.
Sekhar claims that his mother was forcibly converted. If it was really so, being a legislator himself, why didn’t he act? The Constitution clearly states that no conversion can or should be done through force or inducement. If he was really aggrieved, he could have taken recourse to legal action. But, he has chosen to make false allegation against an entire religion and its community. He did not stop there. As a member of the Legislature’s social welfare minority committee he presided over one of the meetings in the absence of the Chairman and directed government officials to visit all churches….. (At this stage, Shri George’s speech was interrupted by some members and for a few minutes, there was chaos in the House and nothing could be heard clearly. After the House was brought to order, Shri George continued his speech on the Bill.)
Deputy Speaker Sir, what I’m trying to stress here is that we Christians have reposed complete faith in the Constitution. There are specific provisions in the Constitution against forcible conversion or conversion through inducements. I completely agree with that. Our Arch Bishop has made it clear that no one should be converted forcibly. He has gone a step further and said that if any Christian institution indulges in forcible conversion, such institution would be closed down….We have made it amply clear that if some individuals have strayed, action should be initiated against them.
If we go back in history, we will find that Hinduism is being practiced in this country for over 5,000 years. The Hindus have lived peacefully for centuries long before we had political parties like the BJP and the Congress. This country has been invaded by people like Alexander and ruled over for several centuries by the Muslim rulers, the British and the Portuguese. But, none of them could erase or shake Hinduism. It remains as strong as ever even to this day.
History tells us that Buddhism branched out of Hinduism and started spreading widely across the world. I have a lot of respect for Buddhism. It seems that at one point when Buddhism appeared poised to overtake Hinduism, the great Guru, Shri Sankaracharya quietly intervened, travelled to four corners of this big continent, set up ‘Peetas’ and convinced people that they had to give up some of the regressive practices that were corroding Hinduism. Did Sankaracharya take out an Army or relied on a ‘Bill’ to bring about radical reforms? No. In his short life of 34 years, the Guru travelled hundreds of miles by foot and won over people through convincing argument and persuasion. He is credited with saving this great religion at a very critical moment in history.
Deputy Speaker Sir, the point I’m making is that you cannot bring about reforms through Bills or legislation. We have to win over people with rational arguments. The Chief Minister (Shri Basavaraja Bommai) in his speech, mentioned about the prevalence of widespread poverty and exploitation even 74 years after Independence. I fully agree with him that whichever party is in power, we have to make sincere efforts to uplift them. Let the government take stringent measures to fight untouchability and improve their standards of living. We will extend our full support.
I will explain why we are opposed to this Bill. If it was meant to curb forcible conversion or conversion through allurement, we would have had no objection. But, look at its provisions. Even giving a gift is classified as ‘allurement.’ Shouldn’t anybody give a gift? It also says one shouldn’t offer material benefits like cash or kind. I agree with that. But, it also finds fault with offering employment or free education in schools run by religious institutions. Is it wrong to uplift the down-trodden and exploited sections of society with free education?
I will tell you where the government is going wrong. This Bill does not require the complainant to provide proof. He or she can make the allegation and keep silent. The burden of truth is on the alleged accused. I will give an example. As a Christian, I might choose to employ anyone including Hindus. I know that there are many good people among Hindus, but there are also black sheep. Someone with mischievous intent might send somebody to work in my company and later make an allegation that K J George converted or tried to convert that person. According to this Bill, I have to prove my innocence. Is this correct?
We run a number of educational institutions where we give fee concessions to the poor and also provide them with employment wherever possible. You will look such noble activities with suspicion. Is it the right thing to do?
The Bill also provides for any unconnected person, who is not even an aggrieved party, to give a compliant. Yes, allowing the parents of the helpless persons or mentally disabled, is understandable. But even they need to provide proof. I’m of the firm opinion that nobody should be allowed to make a wild allegation and go missing. They should provide evidence and take responsibility for the allegations made.
Yesterday, I was reading an excellent article in the Vijayavani newspaper written by Sadguru Madhusudan Sai titled, “Sanatana Dharma and Sarva Dharma Samanvaya”. (Sanatana Dharma and homogeneity of religions.) He writes that Sanatana Dharma has never opposed the propagation of other religions and that though truth is one, the Jnanees find different ways to describe it.
It says that how we appear externally is not important. The essence of Sanatana Dharma is to experience the oneness of world religions and love and respect everyone equally. In fact, every religion has good things. Buddhism says, ‘Treat others as you will treat yourselves.’ The Bible exhorts, ‘Love thy neighbour as you will love thee.’ The great Confucius says, ‘Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do.’ The Hindu philosophy propagates, ‘Vasudaiva Kutambakam’ (The world is a family.) Prophet Mohammed says, ‘If you are not prepared to give to your brother what you love most, you have no trust in God.’ Jainism says, ‘Show love and kindness to all living beings.’
Therefore, what is clear is that only if we respect other religions, their gurus and their sacred books, we will get similar respect from others. Everyone knows that Hinduism is a very tolerant religion. And it does not discriminate against others. The Indian Constitution also speaks of freedom of religion and freedom to propagate one’s religion without disrespecting other religions. That’s the way it should be.
But, recently, we have seen a church being attacked in Chikballapur and a prayer being disrupted with the singing of bhajans in a church at Hubballi. Some people will be constantly trying to disturb peace in society. We are a democratic nation. Therefore, whichever party is in power, our objective should be to let people live amicably and harmoniously. If you do good work, people will appreciate you. So, my appeal to you is don’t inject hatred and mistrust among different communities and sections of people with such ill-conceived legislations.
With these words, I conclude my speech by thanking the Chair.