Anti-Conversion Laws: Are forced conversions a myth or reality? Available data clearly shows up the bogey of “forced religious conversions” for what it is, another stick to beat marginalised minorities with – a resource

21, Dec 2022 | Tanya Arora

It is an established principled of just and fair jurisprudence that once any law is passed, that contains anti-constitutional and oppressive provisions, selective policing, state surveillance, harassment or interference in issues of personal liberty, privacy and autonomy, follow. These take a collective form when the very intent of such laws is not community neutral but majoritarian.

So, it is with the slew of “anti-conversion” laws passed in state after BJP-ruled state since 2020, all of which are under constitutional challenge presently. Before this resource delves into the background and history of such restrictive legislations, the ‘facts and figures’ –- data –behind the issue of ‘forced religious conversions’ requires our attention.

The issue of “forced religious conversions” has been a recurring bogey whipped up by organisations that espouse a state control over women’s autonomy and free choice in general. It is not a coincidence that these forces and voices represent a majoritarian even supremacist worldview that are at loggerheads with the non-negotiable constitutional principles of the right to life, equality before the law, right to live without being discriminated against and the freedom of faith, belief and worship. Presently in power at the centre and in several Indian states, this narrow and partisan attitude sees expression in hyperbole, exaggerations that are not really backed by any credible data.

Here we ask, are ‘forced conversions’ a hysterically whipped up myth or a reality? What does all available data tell us?

Modi 2.0 Government’s stance on conversion in Parliament

Data given by governments in power is regarded as reliable and authentic simply because it is provided to the House of Representatives, Parliament. Since 2021, on three occasions, pointed questions put to the ruling regime, specifically on the issue of “forced conversions” has evinced denials or replies in the negative.

February 2, 2021

During the Budget Session of the Parliament, 2021, Lok Sabha Members of Parliament Dr. Mohammad Jawed, Shri Anto Antony, Shri T.N. Prathapan, Shri Kumbakudi Sudhakaran, and Dr. A. Challakumar had all asked the Ministry of Home Affairs whether the Government is of the view that inter-faith marriages are happening due to forceful conversions, and to provide the details regarding the evidence that has been collected by the Government which shows that interfaith marriages in India are connected to instances of forced religious conversion

In response to his question, Shri G. Kishan Reddy, Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs informed the Lok Sabha that “‘Public Order’ and ‘Police’ are State subjects as per the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India. Hence prevention, detection, registration, investigation and prosecution of offences related to religious conversions are primarily the concerns of the State Governments/Union Territory (UT) Administrations. Action is taken as per existing laws by the law enforcing agencies whenever instances of violation come to notice.”

In furtherance to this, when these elected officials probed further and asked the  MHA if the central government intends to propose a central Anti Conversion Law to curb interfaith marriages, the government had replied in the negative.

Over the question of bringing a law for religious conversions, the Government has categorically told Parliament that the question of the central government passing such a law does not arise since law and order are State subjects.

The full reply can be read here.

 

March 14, 2022

During the Budget Session of the Parliament, 2022, Lok Sabha Member of Parliament Shri Kanakmal Katara had asked the Ministry of Tribal Affairs “whether it is a fact that the conversion of religion is a very a serious issue in the states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand etc. particularly in the Parliamentary Constituency of Banswada-Dangarpur, and, if so, requested information on the steps taken by the Government to stop the said conversion of religion and to save the thousands of years old culture of our tribes. The minister had also asked the Government “whether the Government has constituted or proposes to constitute any Committee to find out or to investigate the reasons for the conversion of religion by the Tribal Community.”

In response to his question, Shri Bishweswar Tudu, Minister of State for Tribal Affairs provided the same standard reply,  that was provided by the government when they were asked to provide details and evidences to support their claims of forced conversions taking place in the country.

The full reply can be read here.

 

August 1, 2022

During the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, 2022, Lok Sabha Members of Parliament Shri Arvind Ganpat Sawant and Shri Vinayak Raut had asked the Ministry of Tribal Affairs whether it is true that religious conversion is taking place on a large scale in many cities, villages and towns in the country and the steps taken by the Government to deal with the same.

On August 1, 2022 the Ministry of Tribal Affairs clearly stated that it does not maintain figures about religious conversion amongst tribals and that neither has it constituted any committee to find out the reasons of religious conversion by the tribal community people, indicating that this has not been an issue on the ground at all.

The full reply can be read here.

 

Government, therefore has simply not alerted the house of people’s representatives about the hyperbolic issue, “the danger of forced conversions.” Despite this, in every other public for a, representatives of the same government, including law officers continue with exaggerated claims and statements.

The Myth and Reality behind claims of forced conversions

In 2021, a BJP MLA Goolihatti Shekhar of Hosadurga, Karnataka alleged that his mother had been forcefully converted to Christianity, and directed the police to conduct a survey on all churches. The police in its report clearly said that they could not identify any ‘illegal church’; Tahsildars who were recruited to examine the “charges of forceful” conversion noted they identified 50 families from two villages who embraced Christianity without any allurement or force. Interestingly, in December Goolahati himself retracted his statement and said that he was “not sure” whether his mother was actually converted.[1]

This is just one example of a powerful elected official from the ruling dispensation mis-using his position to add to the false bogey which is then again used to justify the need for such regressive laws.

When the same government is thereafter asked to provide empirical evidence of the “forced conversions and the mass conversions”, they either dodge these questions or provide a standard reply that collecting such data falls under the constitutional responsibilities of states. To date, there are no official numbers of cases or convictions that have been provided by the central government to support the claims of forced conversions made repeatedly by law officers associated with them.

Who is actually benefitting from the anti-conversion laws?

Recent “anti-conversion laws” passed by Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Uttarakhand by BJP-led governments from 2020 onwards have a common phenomenon—any “attempts to convert members of the SC, ST, OBC community as well as, women, and minors” carry a higher penalty for the “offender.”

According to the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act of 2017, conversion is punishable by three years in prison, a fine of Rs. 50,000, or both; however, conversion of a SC, ST, woman, or a minor is punishable by four years in prison and a fine of Rs. 1 lakh, or both. In a same manner, the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance, 2020 calls for harsher penalties for converting Adivasis and members of lower castes in addition to juveniles and women.

These laws contain disparate punitive provisions despite the long history of conversions being used by India’s most oppressed sections to liberate themselves from the evil burdens of caste-driven exclusion and violence. Since 1956, when Dr B. R. Ambedkar led a mass conversion into Buddhism, oppressed castes among Dalits and Adivasis especially have used conversions to step away from the oppressor faith.

What do the figures tell us?

Hinduism saw the largest increase in new converts, according to statistics collected by The New Indian Expresscollated from government gazettes that contain official figures for the year 2020. Hinduism, says this analysis, was “adopted” by 47% of those who converted to a different religion in Kerala during the referred year. 241 of the 506 people who reported their change of religion with the government were Christians or Muslims who converted to Hinduism. Islam attracted 144 converts overall, compared to 119 converts to Christianity.[2]

The majority of Dalit Christians, or Christian Cheramars, Christian Sambavas, and Christian Pulayas, made up 72% of the new Hindu converts. It was clear that the absence of quota and reservation advantages had led to the re-admittance of Hinduism by many Dalit Christians. Christianity lost 242 believers to the other two religions and attracted only 119 persons. Islam gained 144 new believers and lost 40 during the period. Buddhism received two new believers who switched from Hinduism.

As many as 77% of the new converts to Islam were Hindus and 63% women. It attracted the highest number of persons from Ezhava, Thiyya and Nair communities. 25 persons, including 13 females, switched from the Hindu Ezhava caste, to Islam. Data reveals that 17 Thiyya community members including 11 females converted to Islam. 17 persons including 12 females were from the Nair community. Of the 33 persons who crossed over to Islam from Christianity, 9 were Syrian Catholics, who included two women.

To provide a breakdown, the following number of conversions took place:

Conversions Female Male Total
Hindu to Christian 60 51 111
Christian to Hindu 108 101 209
Hindu to Islam 72 39 111
Islam to Hindu 22 10 32
Christianity to Islam 19 14 33
Islam to Christian 2 6 8
Hindu to Buddhism 1 1 2

Data Source- The New Indian Express[3]

Despite these trends, a complicit silence exists around this — cases of conversion to Hinduism are not referred to in public debate and not debated by the country’s media. Such forced or mass conversion or “re-conversion” are termed as ghar vapsi or ‘Homecoming’. Even when the present anti-conversion laws are spoken about, the conversion to Hinduism does not find much place.  The erroneous assumption that the “original” faith of Adivasis and Dalits is/was sanatani Hinduism is a highly contested one since their faith practices pre-date the formalization of the caste-ridden, stratified Hindu faith.

Examples/Instances of “Gharwapsi” and forced conversions to Hinduism by Extremist Groups:

S. No. States Year Incidents
1. West Bengal 2015

 

 

 

2018

Ghar Wapsi: At least 50 people from both Christian and Muslim communities were “re-converted” to Hinduism during the Virat Hindu Sammelan, justifies action saying conversion is service to Hindu samaj[4]

An Organisation called Hindu sanhati, led by Tapan Ghosh, organized “ghar wapsi” with 16 members of a Muslim family, who had “been re-converted to Hinduism”, being showcased on the dais of rightwing outfit Hindu Samhati.[5]

2. Gujarat 2020

 

 

2021

 

 

144 tribal Hindus who converted to Christianity many years ago converted back to Hinduism in Dang district, Gujarat by the Agniveer organisation.[6]

21 families of Dharampur and Kaprada talukas reverted to Hinduism from Christianity in a program organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Vapi.[7]

3. Andhra Pradesh 2019 The local cell of the Hindu nationalist party converts about 500 Christians back to Christianity in Andhra Pradesh, and convinced them to take an oath to the Hindu religion and to promise not to go to church anymore[8]
4. Tripura 2019 98 Christian tribals ‘forced’ to reconvert to Hinduism by the VHP in Tripura[9]
5. Kerala 2015

 

 

2015

About 30 Christian tribals were reportedly converted to Hinduism at an event organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Alappuzha.[10]

35 people converted to Hinduism in Kottayam district. They were Dalit families who had converted to Christianity a few generations back.[11]

6. Uttar Pradesh 2014 In 2014, 57 Muslim families with more than 200 members converted to Hinduism in Agra.[12]

Source: Table collated by CJP Legal Research Team

There is more interesting data. According to census figures, the Buddhist population in India increased to 84 lakh in 2011 from 64 lakh in 1991.Under the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950, Dalits who belong to Hindu, Sikh & Buddhist faiths are considered members of the Scheduled Castes (SC) and can access the benefits of reservation.[13]

In the current year, 2022, as many as 302 attacks against Christians reportedly took place in the first seven months, according to the United Christian Forum (UCF), which has collected data on the basis of distress calls it received on its helpline numbers. UCF is a Delhi based non-governmental organization established with the objective of protecting the targeted and providing them help. UCF’s data shows that the state of Uttar Pradesh has reported over 80 such instances – the highest – followed by Chhattisgarh, which reported 60 such cases.[14] Clearly, this bogey of “forced conversions” is an actual stick to beat a vulnerable minority with.

No conviction, only false allegations: a pattern

Decades back, when the first “anti-conversion” bill was passed by the Odisha government in 1967, there were only about 2 lakh Christians in the state comprising approximately 1.1% of the total population, as compared to 1.7 crore Hindus. Following the example set by Odisha, Madhya Pradesh approved its first “Freedom of Religion” bill in 1968. Notably, according to the 2011 census, Madhya Pradesh has 0.29% of its inhabitants that today identify as Christians.[15]

  • Despite this track record that shows up the bogey for what it is, in January 2021, Madhya Pradesh came up with a stringent ordinance, and within the first 23 days, as many as 23 cases were filed alleging forced conversions. None of them resulted in any conviction though.
  • There has been just one conviction by the lower court out of 16 cases under the UP anti-conversion law.[16]According to UP Police data accessed by ThePrint, it was discovered that charge sheets have been filed in 72 of the 108 cases initiated. Final reports have been filed in 11 cases due to lack of evidence against those named in the police complaint, and investigation is under way for 24 of the complaints. The investigation of one case has been transferred to Bengaluru. The largest number of cases in UP have been lodged in Bareilly zone (28), Meerut zone (23), Gorakhpur zone (11), Lucknow zone (nine), and Agra zone (nine). Both Prayagraj and Gautam Buddh Nagar stand at seven each, while Varanasi and Lucknow are at six cases. Kanpur has only two such cases registered. Within nine months of the ordinance being promulgated, police had arrested at least 189 people in connection with anti-conversion cases.[17]
  • In September 2022, Tamil Nadu rejected the NCPCR report on the “forceful conversion of children in child homes and schools”, stating that the claims are false. The NCPCR had alleged that the hostel warden was tutoring students to convert and follow Christianity.[18]
  • On October 13 2021, the Gujarat High Court granted bail to all seven individuals arrested in the state’s first case under the amended freedom of religion law. The case involved a Hindu woman who filed forced conversion charges against her Muslim husband, five of his Muslim family members, and the officiant at their wedding; all of whom were arrested on June 18.  On August 5, the woman filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court to retract her complaint, stating the police had “twisted” her complaint into a case of forced religious conversion, rape, and other charges.  According to the police report, her Muslim husband had claimed to be Christian before their wedding and, once they were married, the family pressured the wife to convert to Islam.  Police dropped the case after the woman retracted her complaint. [19]
  • A joint report entitled Christians under Attack in India, drafted by NGOs United Against Hate, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, and the UCF, noted that more than 500 incidents of violence against Christians were reported to the UCF hotline during the year.  The report stated that 333 of 486 incidents were recorded in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka States.  The report stated that only 34 FIRs were filed against the perpetrators through the year.  At the end of the year, 19 cases were pending against Christians in nine states under the conversion restriction laws, although no Christian had been convicted in the country for illegal religious conversion during the year, according to the report.[20]
  • The sangh parivar’s (wider family of supremacist organisations) claims of numerous “forcible conversions” around the Tirumala Hills have been contradicted by V V Ramena Deekshitulu, head priest of the Lord Venkateshwara Temple at Tirumala, who has stated there have been no conversions in that area. This is consistent with the 1999 observations of the then chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities(NCM) that no evidence had been found to support the allegation that Dalits and tribals had been converted by force.[21]

Petitions against Conversion- An attempt to further oppress the minorities?

The Supreme Court as well as the Delhi High Court have, over  the last two years dismissed three similar pleas on “forced conversions” filed by the same petitioner – serial public interest litigator and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay.

On December 12, a PIL was filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay alleging “mass conversions” taking place across the country. In his plea, Upadhyay claimed that the Hindu population in India had declined from 86% in 2001 to 79% in 2011. If this trend continued, the petition declared, “Hindus shall gradually become a minority” in India.

While hearing the said case, the Supreme Court took exception to certain tasteless and scurrilous statements made against minority religions in the PIL. The court clearly asked senior advocate Arvind P Datar, appearing for the petitioner who belongs to the BJP, to ensure that such scurrilous remarks do not find place on the record. At the recent hearing, the judges asked that any such remarks be expunged while on prior dates of hearing the law officers of the central government had made misleading statements leading the bench to observe that “forced conversions are a serious issue!”   At an earlier hearing of the same court in this matter, the Supreme Court called the issue of “false conversions” a “very severe” problem, even directing the central government to gather data from the states regarding legislation governing religious conversions!

Ironically, petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay himself is today facing prosecution for hate speech. Upadhyay had on an earlier occasion in 2021 faced stern rejection from the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court that had also threatened levying costs on the petitioner. The three-judge bench consisting of Justices RF Nariman, BR Gavai, and Hrishikesh Roy rejected a petition submitted by Upadhyay himself, threatening to levy hefty fines if he persisted.[22] This bench had ruled that religious conversion law or anything that infringes one’s right to religion would be unlawful since the Indian Constitution allows people to practice any religion they choose and because the word “propagate” is also used in Article 25 of the Constitution. The bench stated that a person above the age of 18 should have the freedom to choose their religion.[23]

CJP’s challenge to the constitutionality of state anti-conversion laws, against autonomy and free choice

In the third week of November 2022, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear the earlier (2020-2021) batch of petitions challenging the Freedom of Religious Acts introduced by some states legislatures, namely Uttarpradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, in the name of ‘love jihad’ against religious conversions done for the sake of marriages. Senior Advocate, CU Singh, appearing on behalf of ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace‘, one of the petitioners, mentioned the pleas before a Bench comprising the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, Justice Hima Kohli and Justice JB Pardiwala, for urgent listing. Informing the court about urgency of the matter, CU Singh informed the bench that the court had already decided the issue of the right of an individual to change of faith as being a part of fundamental right of choice in Shafin Jahan’s matter.

CJP’s petitions, that will now be heard in early 2023 challenge the constitutional validity of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 and the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 as also the Madhya Pradesh similar law. The laws promulgated by Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have been challenged before the court, later.

Notice has been issued in the batches of these petition in January 2021. Last year, Madhya Pradesh government made it mandatory for people to inform officials two months in advance about interfaith marriage or willful conversion to another religion. Section 10 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act stipulates punitive actions including imprisonment and penalty if an individual fails to adhere to the law

2020-2022, using the courts to fan the phobia

Several petitions have also been filed in the Supreme Court around these laws passed by the states, FIRs have been filed, and individuals from the minority communities have been arrested/harassed. One provision, common to all these laws enacted in several states during the second central term of the NDA II regime (post 2020 onwards to be precise) requires that anyone who intends to convert intimate the district magistrate in advance. This provision gives a legal sanction for the state’s interference in a matter of individual liberty and autonomy, and personal choice. There are provisions against “mass conversions” too. More and more states (all governed by the supremacist, Bharatiya Janata Party- BJP) are now passing stringent laws –that infringe on individual liberty – to directly or indirectly bring under the scanner/target India’s more marginalised sections, its minorities. The latest addition to the list of states that have passed an even more stringent anti-conversion law is the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment Act), 2022.

These laws have been passe post 2017 despite the fact that an earlier version of the same law, passed in Himachal Pradesh had been struck down. A decade back, in 2012, the HP High Court set aside Section 4 of the HP Act of 2006 as ultra vires the Constitution and struck down Rules 3 and 5 thereunder, insofar as they related to Section 4. Section 4 read as follows:

4. Notice of intention.- (1) A person intending to convert from one religion to another shall give prior notice of at least thirty days to the District Magistrate of the district concerned of his intention to do so and the District Magistrate shall get the matter enquired into by such agency as he may deem fit:

 Provided that no notice shall be required if a person reverts back to his original religion.

(2) Any person who fails to give prior notice, as required under sub-section (1), shall be punishable with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees.”

The High Court observed that:

A person not only has a right of conscience, the right of belief, the right to change his belief, but also has the right to keep his beliefs secret. No doubt, the right to privacy is, like any other right, subject to public order, morality and the larger interest of the State. When rights of individuals clash with the larger public good, then the individual’s right must give way to what is in the larger public interest. However, this does not mean that the majority interest is the larger public interest. Larger public interest would mean the integrity, unity and sovereignty of the country, the maintenance of public law and order. Merely because the majority view is different, does not mean that the minority view must be silenced.

In this case, the High Court specifically held that the right to privacy and the right to change the belief of a citizen cannot be taken away under the specious plea that public order may be affected. The High Court observed: “We are unable to comprehend how the issuance of a notice by a convertee will prevent conversions by fraud, force or inducement. In fact, this may open a Pandora’s box and once notice is issued, this may lead to conflicts between rival religious outfits and groups”.

Questioning the Himachal Pradesh Act’s requirement of 30 days’ notice, the High Court asked how the Government would determine when the thought process of a person has changed. It observed: “Change of religion, when it is of its own volition, will normally be a long-drawn-out process. If a person of his own volition changes his religion, there is no way that one can measure or fix the date on which he has ceased to belong to religion A and converted to religion B. This has to be an ongoing process and therefore, there can be no notice of thirty days as required under the Himachal Pradesh Act”.

The High Court also found the proviso to Section 4 discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. It explained: “ ‘Original religion’ has not been defined in the Himachal Act … The general consensus of opinion used was that the original religion would be the religion of the convertee by birth, i.e., the religion he was born into. We fail to understand the rationale why if a person is to revert back to his original religion, no notice is required….Supposing a person born in religion A converts to religion B at the age of 20 and wants to convert back to religion A at the age of 50, he has spent many more years, that too mature years, being a follower of religion B. Why should he not be required to give notice?… if a person born in religion A, converts to religion B, then converts to religion C and then to religion D, if he converts back to religion B or C, he is required to give notice, but if he converts back to religion A, then no notice is required. This also, according to us, is totally irrational and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India“.

The High court was of the view that conversion by “force”, “fraud” or “inducement” should be dealt with strictly and should be discouraged. But, it added, by and large, it is the poor and the down-trodden, who are converted by “force”, “fraud” or “inducement”. By enacting Section 4 and making the non-issuance of the notice a criminal offence, the State has, in fact, made these poor and down-trodden people criminals, whereas the main thrust of the Act should have been to deal strictly with the persons who convert people by “force”, “fraud” or “inducement”, it added, while asking why a person, who fails to give such notice, should be required to pay a fine, which may extend up to Rs.1000.

However, despite this background, in 2019, the HP Act of 2006 was repealed and replaced by the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019. The provisions set aside by the HP High Court have been included within the new law passed in 2019. Under the new law, Section 7(4) stipulates that a conversion carried out without following the procedure of advance declaration would be rendered illegal and void.

Notably, the 2012 judgment by the Himachal Pradesh High Court, in Evangelical Fellowship of India vs. State of Himachal Pradesh was authored by Justice Deepak Gupta, who remained Acting Chief Justice of the High Court twice. He was later elevated as a Judge to the Supreme Court in 2017. Justice Deepak Gupta retired from the Supreme Court in 2020.

Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ), a Mumbai-based NGO filed a public interest litigation before the Supreme Court in 2020, challenging the validity of the anti-conversion laws in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by former Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, along with Justices V. Ramasubramanian and A.S. Bopanna, issued notice to the states, vide its order dated January 6, 2021.

Thereafter, in February 2021, an amendment to the petition was filed by CPJ to also challenge the validity of the new anti-conversion laws passed by Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The amendment petition was allowed by the Supreme Court by its order dated February 17, 2021.

The High Court of Himachal Pradesh observed that “Larger public interest would mean the integrity, unity and sovereignty of the country, the maintenance of public law and order. Merely because the majority view is different, does not mean that the minority view must be silenced”.

In so far as the new law brought about in Himachal Pradesh is concerned, the petition by CPJ submits that the 2019 law added several provisions dealing with “conversion by marriage”, and by sections 7 and 9 reintroduced even more obnoxious and unconstitutional provisions of prior notice, enquiry and investigation than were contained in the struck down provisions of the HP Act of 2006. This is a case of patent legislative overreach and an attempt to legislatively overrule a binding declaration of law by the competent High Court, without removing the unconstitutionality pointed out by the High Court, submits the petition. The new law, in fact, casts a reverse burden of proof upon the person converted and made the offences, including the “offence” of getting married, cognizable and non-cognisable. The petition, titled Citizens for Peace and Justice vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

1977: Stanlislaus Judgement of the Supreme Court

After the first passage of these “anti-conversion” laws in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, both had then been challenged on constitutional grounds. The Odisha Act was unequivocally held to be ultra vires the Constitution by the High Court of Orissa in 1973. However, this was overturned by the Supreme Court in Rev. Stainislaus vs. State of Madhya Pradesh in 1977.

The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Stainislaus examined whether the right to practice and propagate one’s religion also included the right to convert. Upholding the constitutional validity of the Odisha Act and the MP Act of 1968, the Court held that Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees to all persons, the right to freedom and conscience, and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality and health. The Bench further held that “the word ‘propagate’ has been used in Article 25 (1), for what the Article grants is not the right to convert another person to one’s own religion, but to transmit or spread one’s religion by an exposition of its tenets.

The calls for a re-visiting of this verdict is in order. Senior advocate, Sanjay Hegde makes out a strong case for a persuasive re-look at this judgement. According to Hegde, the state laws against conversion let the mobs have the final say. “If you are born in a religion, you can’t change your religion, without the State’s consent“, says Hegde when asked to comment on these laws. Religious beliefs cannot be forced or regulated, he says….These laws try to control women, rather than marriage, and assume that the women don’t have any agency of their own.”

Propaganda laced with rhetoric however sways the public mood and holds the show together as electronic channel after channel, continue with the propaganda dissemination. Both, the organs of the state in allegiance with non-state actors with an allegiance to the dominant Hindutva ideology have systematically used this bogey to intimidate and harass the Christian and Muslim minority’.

Unless sanity and dialogue –which includes assimilation and dissemination of all available data becomes the norm, this tool to beat the vulnerable minority will continue.

Image Courtesy: countercurrents.org

 

[1]Anti-Conversion Laws In India: Are We Ready To Debate Presumptions, Prejudices And Preferences? (outlookindia.com)

[2]At 47%, Hinduism biggest gainer in religious conversion in Kerala- The New Indian Express

[3]At 47%, Hinduism biggest gainer in religious conversion in Kerala- The New Indian Express

[4]religious conversion (indianexpress.com)

[5]16 of a family put on display at Bengal ‘ghar wapsi’ event | Kolkata News – Times of India (indiatimes.com)

[6]Gujarat: 144 tribals ‘reconverted’ to Hinduism in Dang | India News,The Indian Express

[7]Gujarat: 21 families revert to Hinduism in Ghar Wapsi programme arranged by the VHP (opindia.com)

[8]INDIA Andhra Pradesh, nationalists push Christians to mass conversion to Hinduism (asianews.it)

[9]INDIA Sajan K George: 98 Christian tribals ‘forced’ to reconvert to Hinduism (asianews.it)

[10]VHP holds ‘ghar wapsi’ for 35 tribal Christians in Kerala | The News Minute

[11]35 ‘reconverted’ in Kottayam district – The Hindu

[12]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/toi-original/up-anti-love-jihad-law-gets-1st-conviction-man-sentenced-to-5-years-in-jail/videoshow/94398554.cms

[13]https://theprint.in/india/10-cr-buddhists-by-2025-says-group-behind-conversion-event-that-cost-aap-minister-his-job/1165072/

[14] ‘Over 300 Attacks Against Christians Till July 2022’: NGO Data Based on Distress Calls

[15]Anti-Conversion Laws In India: Are We Ready To Debate Presumptions, Prejudices And Preferences? (outlookindia.com)

[16]Afzal becomes first convict under UP anti-conversion law, jailed for 5 years (opindia.com)

[17]https://theprint.in/india/1-year-of-up-anti-conversion-law-108-cases-chargesheet-filed-in-72-lack-of-proof-in-11/770763/

[18]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/city/chennai/tamil-nadu-govt-rejects-ncpcr-report-of-forceful-conversion/videoshow/94157793.cms

[19]https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/india/

[20]Report: ‘Christians Under Attack in India’ – Exaudi

[21]https://www.epw.in/journal/2008/02/special-articles/anti-conversion-laws-challenges-secularism-and-fundamental-rights

[22]https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/supreme-court-religious-conversion-hard-data-anti-conversion-laws-convictions-8272084/

[23]https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/person-above-18-free-to-choose-religion-supreme-court-rejects-plea-to-curb-religious-conversion-2409713

 

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Must take serious steps against ‘forced’ religious conversions: Centre Tells Supreme Court
False allegation of Conversion leads to the continuing Abuse against Christians
Christian Group in Bengaluru Approach the DG of Police to seek protection against targeted violence
Over 300 attacks on Christians reported this year, over 2000 women, Adivasis and Dalits injured
Survey of Churches, anti conversion laws only empower radical mobs: Archbishop Peter Machado
Hate watch: Christians attacked during Sunday mass in Chhattisgarh; 9 hospitalised 
No coercive action against voluntary religious conversion: MP High Court
India has chosen a path of exclusion and persecution for religious minorities: CMRI report
BJP has strayed away from Nehruvian vales of secularism: IAMC report

 

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