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Religious Conversion

Religious Conversion

Supreme Court has urged the Centre to take decisive and genuine actions to address the pressing issue of Forced Religious Conversion. The Court’s call emphasizes the need for serious and sincere efforts to tackle this sensitive matter and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals.

What was Petition and the Court’s Ruling?

  • The petition sought a declaration that fraudulent religious conversion, involving intimidation, threats, deception, or inducements through gifts and monetary benefits, violates Articles 14, 21, and 25 of the Constitution.
  • Referring to the 1977 ruling in the Rev Stainislaus versus State of Madhya Pradesh case, the plea highlighted that Article 25(1) guarantees “freedom of conscience” to every citizen, not limited to followers of a specific religion. The Court stated that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion.
  • During the hearing, the Supreme Court requested the Centre and states to take stringent measures to prevent such conversions. The Court emphasized that forced conversion is perilous and could affect the security of the nation and the freedom of religion and conscience.
  • The Court clarified that if a person intentionally attempts to convert another individual to their religion, instead of merely sharing their religious tenets, it would impinge on the freedom of conscience, guaranteed to all citizens of the country alike.

What is Religious Conversion?

  • Religious conversion involves adopting a specific set of beliefs associated with a particular religious denomination, while disassociating from others.
  • It signifies the act of abandoning one’s adherence to a particular denomination and affiliating with another religious group or denomination.
  • Examples of religious conversion include a Christian Baptist converting to Methodist or Catholic, or a Muslim Shi’a converting to Sunni.
  • In certain cases, religious conversion is marked by a transformation of one’s religious identity and is symbolized by special rituals.

What is the Need for Anti-Conversion Laws?

No Right to Proselytize:

  • The Constitution grants every individual the fundamental right to profess, practice, and propagate their religion.
  • Proselytizing involves attempting to convert someone from their religion to the religion of the proselytizer.
  • The right to freedom of conscience and religion is an individual right and does not imply a collective right to proselytize.
  • Both the person converting and the individual being sought for conversion equally possess the right to religious freedom.

Fraudulent Marriages:

  • In recent times, several cases have been observed where individuals marry people of other religions through misrepresentation or concealing their own religion.
  • After marriage, they coerce the other person to convert to their religion.

SC Observations:

  • The Supreme Court has taken judicial notice of such incidents involving misrepresentation in marriages.
  • The court acknowledges that such actions not only violate the religious freedom of those converted but also undermine the secular fabric of society.

What is the Status of Anti-Conversion Laws in India?

Constitutional Provision:

  • Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom to profess, propagate, and practice religion.
  • It allows religious communities to manage their own religious affairs, subject to public order, morality, and health.
  • No person can be compelled to follow any religion against their will.

Existing Laws:

  • There is no central legislation regulating religious conversions in India.
  • Private Member Bills have been introduced in Parliament multiple times since 1954, but none have been approved.
  • In 2015, the Union Law Ministry stated that Parliament lacks the legislative competence to pass anti-conversion laws.

Anti-Conversion Laws in Various States:

  • Several states have enacted ‘Freedom of Religion’ laws to restrict religious conversions carried out by force, fraud, or inducements.
  • Some of these laws include the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2017, Uttarakhand Freedom of Religious Act, 2018, and The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act, 2021.

What are the Issues Associated with Anti-Conversion Laws?

Uncertain and Vague Terminology:

  • The use of uncertain and vague terms like misrepresentation, force, fraud, and allurement in anti-conversion laws can lead to potential misuse.
  • These terms lack clarity and may be open to interpretation, leaving room for ambiguities and abuse.

Antithetical to Minorities:

  • The current anti-conversion laws tend to focus on prohibiting conversions to protect religious freedom.
  • However, the broad language of these laws could be used by authorities to oppress and discriminate against religious minorities.
  • Minorities may face challenges in practicing and propagating their faith without fear of persecution.

Antithetical to Secularism:

  • The existence of anti-conversion laws may raise concerns about the secular fabric of India.
  • Such laws could be perceived as undermining the principles of religious freedom and secularism that are integral to India’s identity and legal system.
  • The international perception of India’s commitment to religious tolerance and diversity may be affected by the presence of these laws.

Way Forward

Governments implementing anti-conversion laws must ensure that these regulations do not infringe upon an individual’s Fundamental Rights or hinder national integration. The laws should strike a balance between safeguarding the right to religious freedom and preventing malicious conversions. It is crucial to protect individuals’ rights to profess, propagate, and practice their chosen religion while also preventing any coercive or fraudulent practices that may lead to forced conversions. By finding this balance, the laws can effectively address concerns related to religious conversions without compromising on the principles of individual freedoms and national unity.

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