Anti-conversion laws passed in a number of states are being scrutinized because of their ambiguity and the absence of strong justifications for them. recently, Karnataka state’s Legislative Council passed the controversial “Right to Freedom of Religion Bill” which criminalizes religious conversions, amid concerns of Christians and other religious minorities for religious freedom in India.

What is anti-conversion law?

Anticonversion laws refer to laws designed to prevent or prohibit the conversion of one religion to another. These laws may be used to prevent individuals from leaving a particular religion or to prevent religious groups from proselytizing or recruiting members from other religious groups.

The specific provisions of anticonversion laws vary from place to place and may be enforced through criminal or civil penalties. In some cases, anticonversion laws are used to protect the dominant religion in a particular society or to suppress minority religions.

Some people believe that anticonversion laws violate the right to freedom of religion, which is protected by international human rights laws.

What is Religious Conversion?

  • Religious conversion is the adoption of a set of beliefs identified with one particular religious denomination to the exclusion of others.
  • Thus “religious conversion” would describe the abandoning of adherence to one denomination and affiliating with another. For example, Christian Baptist to Methodist or Catholic, Muslim Shi’a to Sunni.
  • In some cases, religious conversion “marks a transformation of religious identity and is symbolized by special rituals”.

What is the status of the anti-conversion law in India?

Constitutional Provision: Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom to practice, profess, and propagate any religion. It also grants all religious groups the right to control their own religious affairs, subject to public morality, health, and order.

Existing Laws: Religious conversions have not been subject to any national restrictions or regulations. Private Member Bills to control religious conversions, however, have repeatedly been introduced in the Parliament since 1954 (but never passed by it).

Additionally, the Union Law Ministry stated in 2015 that Parliament lacks the legislative authority to enact legislation prohibiting conversion. Several states have passed “Freedom of Religion” laws over the years to prohibit forced, fraudulent, or coerced conversions to another religion.

In general, however, anticonversion laws in India require that individuals seeking to convert to another religion must obtain permission from the government before doing so. Some states have more stringent anticonversion laws than others, and some states have provisions that specifically target certain religious groups or activities.

In recent years, there has been significant controversy and debate over the use of anticonversion laws in India. Some people argue that these laws are necessary to protect the cultural and social cohesion of the country, while others believe that they are used to suppress minority religions and violate the right to freedom of religion.

The Supreme Court of India has ruled that anticonversion laws are constitutional as long as they are not used to interfere with an individual’s right to freedom of religion. However, there have been cases in which these laws have been used to target and persecute minority religious groups.

Need for an anti-conversion law

  • No Right to Proselytize:
    • The Constitution confers on each individual the fundamental right to profess, practice, and propagate his religion.
      • Proselytizing is the act of trying to convert another individual from the converter’s religion to the converter’s religion.
    • The individual right to freedom of conscience and religion cannot be extended to construe a collective right to proselytize.
    • The right to religious freedom belongs equally to the person converting and the individual seeking to be converted.
  • Fraudulent Marriages:
    • In the recent past, several instances have come to the notice whereby people marry persons of other religions by either misrepresentation or concealment of their own religion and after getting married they force such other person to convert to their own religion.
  • SC Observations:
    • Recently, the Supreme Court took judicial notice of instances of people marrying by either misrepresentation or concealment of their own religion.
    • According to the court, such incidents not only infringe on the freedom of religion of the persons so converted but also militate against the secular fabric of our society.

What are the issues associated with anti-conversion laws?

  1. Freedom of religion: Anticonversion laws can be seen as a violation of the right to freedom of religion, which is protected by international human rights laws. These laws can restrict an individual’s ability to choose their own religion and can be used to suppress minority religions.
  2. Discrimination: Anticonversion laws can be used to discriminate against certain religious groups, particularly minority religions. In some cases, these laws have been used to target and persecute minority religious groups.
  3. Coercion and manipulation: Some people argue that anticonversion laws are necessary to prevent coercion and manipulation in religious conversion. However, others believe that these laws are often used as a pretext to suppress minority religions and restrict the right to freedom of religion.
  4. Social and cultural divisions: Anticonversion laws can contribute to social and cultural divisions within a community or society, particularly if they are used to protect the dominant religion.
  5. Conflict with other laws: Anticonversion laws can sometimes conflict with other laws, such as laws that protect freedom of expression or the right to freedom of association.
  6. Effectiveness: There is debate over the effectiveness of anticonversion laws in achieving their intended goals. Some people argue that these laws are not effective in preventing religious conversion, while others believe that they are necessary to protect the cultural and social cohesion of a community or society.

Way Forward

The governments implementing such laws need to ensure that these do not curb one’s Fundamental Rights or hamper national integration instead, these laws need to strike a balance between freedoms and malafide conversions

Supreme Court Judgements on Marriage and Conversion

Lata Singh vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh

The Supreme Court held that an individual has the right to marry someone of their choice, regardless of their religion, caste, or social status. The court also stated that any interference with this right by the state or any other party is a violation of the right to freedom of choice.

S. Pushpabai vs. C.T. Selvaraj,

The Supreme Court ruled that an individual has the right to convert to another religion, but that such a conversion should be genuine and voluntary. The court also stated that any coercion or misrepresentation in connection with a religious conversion is a violation of the right to freedom of religion






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