IIRF Reports Vol. 1, No. 2 (February 2012)

By: Tehmina Arora

India’s Defiance of Religious Freedom: A Briefing on ‘Anti- Conversion’ Laws

While the Constitution of India provides for full religious freedom, six Indian states have “Freedom of Religion” Acts which regulate religious conversions. These laws claim to merely purge the use of force, fraud and inducement from religious persuasion in the interest of public order. But the “anti-conversion” laws clearly violate some key components of religious freedom.

These laws1, enacted in the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, give the district administration wide and sweeping powers to inquire into religious conversions but carry no provisions for protection against discriminatory action on the part of the authorities. They also require a person converting to another religion to give details of the conversion to the local district magistrate, either prior to the conversion ceremony or subsequent to it. The law in Gujarat makes prior permission from the local authorities mandatory before any conversion ceremony is performed.

Besides, vague and wide de nitions of terms such as “force,” “fraud” and “inducement” or “allurement,” potentially include even legitimate pursuits or actions of propagating one’s faith. Inclusion of the terms such as “divine displeasure” in the de nition of “force” restricts those propagating their religion to inform others about what they believe could be the fate of non-adherents.

These laws are premised on a longtime propaganda by Right-wing Hindu groups against minority Christians and Muslims – that poor and illiterate Hindus are being converted with the use of duress, deception or coercion, which threatens public order – and not on a scienti c study on religious conversions.

Moreover, the laws in Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh seek to prohibit conversions out of “original religion” or “indigenous faiths,” showing that their real intent is to prevent or regulate conversions to faiths such as Christianity and Islam.

Country’s prominent jurists have repeatedly stated that these Acts contradict India’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the fundamental rights safeguarded in the Indian Constitution.

The state governments that have enacted these laws claim they do not defy religious freedom based on a 1977 ruling by the Supreme Court of India [in the Reverend Stanislaus vs. State of Madhya Pradesh2 case] which upheld the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act stating that the right to propagate did not include the right to convert another person.

However, the Supreme Court in the said case considered only the arguments whether an individual has a right to convert any person or merely to propagate the religion of one’s choice and whether the state legislatures are competent to enact such legislations in order to protect public order.

Furthermore, the Acts have come under harsh criticism also from national and international agencies, including the UN Special Rapporteur and the National Commission for Minorities, as Right-wing Hindu groups have misused these laws to harass mainly the Christian community.

This brie ng paper seeks to highlight the limits the anti-conversion laws put on religious freedom of communities that see propagation of their faith as a religious obligation, such as Christians, as well as that of the majority Hindu population.