Analysis of Anti-Conversion Laws
Saptarshi Roy, Student, St. Xavier's University, Kolkata
(Image Source: bel-india.com)
The “anti-conversion” laws have been authorized to administer religious conversions. It supports voluntary religious conversion but prohibits involuntary religious conversion. In other words, the anti-conversion laws do not ban voluntary religious conversion but forbid forced religious conversions. It punishes those people who force others to convert into another religion or punishes those people who prevent others from converting into another religion as per their choice.
The anti-conversion laws were present from the Pre-Independent phase which was introduced by the Hindu princely states. The majority of the anti-conversion laws were made for the Hindu community so that no Hindu can change their religion or convert into another religion. During 1930-40, Hindu princely states adopted some laws to put a stop to religious conversions and to protect the identity of the Hindus among the British missionaries. In the current times, the states in which the anti-conversion laws are implemented are Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and some others. So, to convert into another religion, one must provide a 30 days’ notice to the District Magistrate in the Court. After the completion of 30 days, the District Magistrate shall either permit the conversion or restrict the conversion to another religion. This law has not been implemented all over India because only the state governments have the power to create such law for such states. Though, the central government supports the anti-conversion laws and intends to bring them to the national level.
There were many problems and disadvantages found relating to the anti-conversion laws. These laws target Christianity. In the 1980s, these laws were said to be against the Muslim community. So there were many Indian states that passed freedom of religion bills or anti-conversion bills specifically for the reason that no one shall take the religion of Christianity. So there is a threat of being abused by communal forces that may have the tacit approval of the dominant political party in the state or country. So this law could be misused in the future. It must ensure that no religious community is deprived by this law as it may indirectly impede the number of followers of any religious group and thus dismiss the intention of conserving the number of believers of any religion. This can also create tension in other communities and can defame the community that has the benefit. In this way, the law challenged the Secularism and Fundamental Rights of the Indian Constitution.
In 1967, Odisha was the first state to implement anti-conversion law. The issue of anti-conversion came in India because of the case of Rev. Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors. In this case, Reverend Stanislaus of Raipur refused to convert and challenged the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Act. The Madhya Pradesh High Court upheld the law, saying freedom of religion should be guaranteed to all including those who have converted by threat or cheating. When the Freedom of Religion Act was challenged in the Odisha High Court, the definition of “inducement” was too wide and only Parliament had the power to enact such a law and the state legislature had no power to legislate on this issue. The issue of this case was whether the fundamental right to practice and propagate religion included the right to convert. The Supreme Court of India stated that Article 25 of the Indian Constitution talks about freedom of religion and held that the right to propagate does not include the right to convert, so no force or inducement can be applied to convert into another religion against their will. The conversion should be voluntary. Therefore the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of the laws enacted by Madhya Pradesh and Odisha legislatures prohibiting conversion by force, fraud or allurement. So after the High Court cases in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, the anti-conversion law was enacted in 1976 in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Arunachal Pradesh.
In the case of Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, the facts were that Geeta Rani, married to Pradeep Kumar alleged physical and mental violence by her husband. She later learned that her husband, Pradeep had married another woman in 1991 after converting to Islam. The petitioner, Sushmita Ghosh married G. C. Ghosh in 1974 according to Hindu custom. The husband informed her that he wanted a divorce and the petitioner argued that she was legally married to him. The husband converted to Islam and wanted to marry Vinita Gupta. The petitioner prayed to the Court that her husband shall not marry Vinita Gupta. Two issues arose in this case which was whether a Hindu husband married under Hindu law is allowed to embrace Islam and then second another and whether the husband can be charged under 494 of IPC. The court decided that the first marriage had to be dissolved under the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. Thus, the man's first marriage would remain valid and, according to Hindu law, his second marriage, after conversion, would be unlawful under the Indian Penal Code. It was said that if any Hindu wants to convert into Islam with the motive to marry more than one wife, then this conversion shall remain invalid. In this case, even if the conversion was voluntary with no restriction and no one was forced to convert into another religion, the conversion shall not remain valid as the religion in which one is converting does not have any faith and is only converting to Islam to practice polygamy. Basically, everyone has the right to convert but not without faith.
According to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), everyone has the liberty to think, conscience and faith. This right gives the freedom to convert into another religion and practice, worship and observe his belief or his religion. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights considers converting to another religion as a human right. Thus, anti conversion laws don’t violate freedom of religion as everyone should have the right to convert to another religion voluntarily as per their choice.
 Aneesha Mathur, (Anti-conversion laws in India: How states deal with religious conversion, 23 December 2020) <https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/anti-conversion-laws-in-india-states-religious-conversion-1752402-2020-12-23> accessed 30 March 2021.  V.Venkatesan, (Conversion debate, 26 September 2008) <https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/article30197660.ece> accessed 28 March 2021. (1977) 2 SCR 611 (India) (1995) 3 SCC 635 (India)  Linde Lindkvist, (The Politics of Article 18: Religious Liberty in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 12 June 2014) <http://humanityjournal.org/issue4-3/the-politics-of-article-18-religious-liberty-in-the-universal-declaration-of-human-rights/> accessed 31 March 2021.
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