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  • 21 November, 2022

  • 7 Min Read

Religious Conversion: Explained

Religious Conversion: Explained

The Supreme Court recently directed the Centre to intervene and make serious and sincere efforts to address the issue of Forced Religious Conversion.

What were the Petition and the Court's Decision?

  • The petition sought a declaration that "intimidation, threatening, and deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits" violates Articles 14, 21, and 25 of the Constitution.
  • The petition argued that the Supreme Court stated in the Rev Stainislaus versus State of Madhya Pradesh case in 1977: "It must be remembered that c guarantees 'freedom of conscience' to every citizen, not just followers of one particular religion, and that, in turn, postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one's own religion."
  • While hearing the petition, the Supreme Court directed the Centre and states to take strict measures to prevent such conversions.
  • According to the court, forced conversion is extremely dangerous and may jeopardize national security as well as freedom of religion and conscience.
  • This is because, as opposed to attempting to transmit or spread the tenets of one's religion, attempting to convert another person to one's religion would infringe on the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all citizens of the country.

What is religious conversion?

  • Religious conversion is the acceptance of a set of beliefs associated with one religious denomination at the expense of others.
  • Thus, "religious conversion" would refer to abandoning one denomination and affiliating with another.
  • Christian Baptist to Methodist or Catholic, for example, or Muslim Shi'a to Sunni.
  • Religious conversion "marks a transformation of religious identity and is symbolised by special rituals" in some cases.

What is the Importance of Anti-Conversion Laws?

There is no right to proselytize:

  • The fundamental right to profess, practice, and propagate one's religion is guaranteed by the Constitution.
  • The act of attempting to convert another person from the convertee's religion to the converter's religion is known as proselytizing.
  • Individual freedom of conscience and religion cannot be used to justify a collective right to proselytize.
  • For the right to religious freedom is shared by both the convert and the person seeking to be converted.

Marriages that are fraudulent:

  • Several cases have recently come to light in which people marry people of other religions by either misrepresenting or concealing their own religion and then forcing such other person to convert to their own religion.

Observations from the SC:

  • Recently, the Supreme Court took judicial notice of cases in which people married by misrepresenting or concealing their own religion.
  • According to the court, such incidents not only violate the religious freedom of those who have been converted but also work against the secular fabric of our society.

What is the Current Status of Anti-Conversion Legislation in India?

  • Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom to profess, propagate, and practice religion, and allows all religious groups to manage their own religious affairs, subject to public order, morality, and health.
  • However, no one shall be forced to believe in their religious beliefs, and no one shall be forced to practise any religion against their will.
  • Existing Laws: There is no central legislation that restricts or regulates religious conversions.
  • However, since 1954, Private Member Bills have been introduced in (but never approved by) Parliament on numerous occasions to regulate religious conversions.
  • Furthermore, the Union Law Ministry stated in 2015 that Parliament lacks the legislative authority to pass anti-conversion legislation.
  • Anti-Conversion Legislation in Various States: Several states have enacted 'Freedom of Religion' legislation over the years to restrict religious conversions carried out by force, fraud, or inducement.
  • Orissa's Freedom of Religion Act of 1967, Gujarat's Freedom of Religion Act of 2003, Jharkhand's Freedom of Religion Act of 2017, Uttarakhand's Freedom of Religion Act of 2018, and the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act of 2021 are all examples.

What are the Problems with Anti-Conversion Laws?

Terminology that is Uncertain and Vague:

  • Misrepresentation, force, fraud, and allurement are all examples of uncertain and ambiguous terminology.
  • These terms are either ambiguous or overly broad, extending far beyond the protection of religious freedom.

Minorities are harmed:

  • Another issue is that current anti-conversion laws focus on the prohibition of conversion in order to achieve religious freedom.
  • However, officials may use the broad language of the prohibitive legislation to oppress and discriminate against minorities.

Antithetical to Secularism:

  • These laws may endanger India's secular fabric as well as international perceptions of our society's inherent values and legal system.

Way Forward

  • Governments enacting such laws must ensure that they do not restrict fundamental rights or impede national integration; rather, these laws must strike a balance between freedoms and fraudulent conversions.

Source: The New Indian Express

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