By: Haya Fatima
The Freedom of Religion Acts, also known as “anti-conversion” laws was enforced at the state level in India to govern religious conversions. Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand are among the states that have enacted the rules. Even though there are certain differences in the substance and form of the state rules, they are all quite identical. Many of the rules aim to prohibit someone from converting or seeking to convert another human, either directly or indirectly, by “coercion” or “dishonest means”, or by “enticement” or “induction.” That being said, it seems that the anti-conversion legislation in Rajasthan and Arunachal Pradesh do not apply of reconversions to “existing” or “first” religions. Violations of the legislation may result in fines or imprisonment, with sentences varying from one to three years in jail and damages varying from 5,000 to 50,000 Indian rupees.
Anti-conversion law, love-jihad, inter religion marriage, social rights and culture, religious conversion, UP government.
The Indian perspective on faith differs significantly from that of the rest of world. Religious belief in India seems more of a nostalgic concern than a religious, democratic, or economic problem. Religious belief is among the most powerful and influential political factor and it has a major impact on election struggles. Before digging deeper into the specifics and complexities of religion in India, it’s important to consider the country’s cultural and constitutional perspectives. In reality, Indian community is described by its richness, which is what makes it so appealing. In India, faith is deeply rooted, with regionally distinct religious traditions. Despite widespread criticism of India’s anti-conversion laws, many human rights organisations claim that only a few lawsuits and no arrests have resulted as a result of these laws. It is recognised that because such legislation do not require any facts to justify convictions of crimes, they establish a toxic and often abusive atmosphere for religious minority groups. India is a country with a wide range of religious views and customs. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism are the four main religious traditions found on the Indian subcontinent as a whole. As per 2011 population figures, India’s population consists of 79.80% Hindus, 14.23% Muslims, 2.30 % Christians, 1.72 % Sikhs, 0.70 % Buddhists, and 0.37 % Jains.
BACKGROUND OF ANTI-CONVERSION LEGISLATION
In the latter half of the 1930s and 1940s, the Hindu princely states originally enacted laws banning religious conversions. “These states adopted regulations ‘in an attempt against British colonists to protect Hindu religious belief.’ More than a dozen princely states, including Kota, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Raigarh, Patna, Surguja and Kalahandi, existed in India. The Raigarh State Conversion Act of 1936, the State Apostasy Act of Surguja of 1942, and the Udaipur State Anti-conversion Act of 1946, are among the laws of the time. After India’s independence, the Legislature proposed a series of anti-conversion laws, but none have been passed. First of all the law was proposed in 1954 on Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) with the objective of implementing ‘missionary licencing and licencing with government leaders.’ Anyway this bill was not approved by the vote of the lower house of Parliament and its representatives opposed it. Accompanied by the Religious Protection Act in 1960, “which intended at verifying the transformation of Hindus into ‘non-Indian religions,’ which includes faiths as defined in the Act, such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism, as the Bill stated above. Cabinet members of the new administration have voiced their support for adopting an anti-conversion bill at national level, which is an assault on the democratic principles of the Indian Constitution, according to many humanitarian bodies. “The ruling party’s high-ranking officials demanded a nationwide law against conversion in 2015.” Two dominant party leaders suggested the introduction in both legislative houses of anti-conversion bills to “criminalise religious convergence without government approval. Despite these challenges, the government’s plan for national laws, which calls the Ministry of Legal system against the modification, allegedly ‘hits the obstacle,’ alleges that it is ‘not sustainable,’ because it is ‘strictly subject to state’ – that is, an issue which rest entirely with state constitutional authority under Schedule 7 of the Indian Constitution.
Freedom of religion acts or “anti-conversion laws” are state provisions which are not strictly voluntary to govern religious conversions. The State of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh initially implemented these laws after unsuccessful Union or Central attempts. The aim of anti-conversion laws was initially to Muslims who sought to convert no- Muslims in the 1980s, but Christianity, later in the 1990s, was given more focus by its identification with colonialism in the modern countries and its successful proselytization stance as a religious Man. However, state rules have certain differences, but their substance and form are quite similar. These laws are designed to restrict people’s capacity for converting “from one’s ancestor’s religions” to those who make up the “poorer” and “impacted” segments of society—especially women, kids, backward castes and untouchables. The basic principle behind both these rules is to avoid ‘completed’ or ‘fraudulent’ conversions, or ‘induced’ to conversions. The legislation also refers to the sentences that may be levied for violations of laws ranging from monetary penalties and incarceration. Any of the law permits for more severe sanctions when women, children and members of planned or scheduled castes (SC/ST) are changed.
REGULATIONS AT STATE LEVEL
The Orissa Religious freedom Act of 1967 made Odisha the first state to pass anti-conversion laws. According to Section 3 of that Act, “no person shall convert or threaten to convert any person from one religious religion to another through the use of coercion, inducement, or by dishonest means, nor shall any person tacitly condone any such conversion.” All new anti-conversion regulations have similar clauses. The offence is punishable with up to one year’s incarceration, up to 5,000 rupees or with both. If a minor, woman or person belonging to the SC/ST is involved in criminal activity, the period of impartiality will rise up to 2 years and the penalty to 10,000 rupees. “Conversion” is described by the Act as “the renunciation and adoption of one faith.” It describes “power” more “includes a demonstration of strength or a warning of some sort of harm, including the threat of divine disgust or social excommunication.” In accordance with the Act, the term “inducement” covers the bid or reward in cash or in kind, as well as any other gain, whether financial, or otherwise, and the term “fraud” involves a term “misrepresentation or false misrepresentation.” Offences under the law are acknowledged crimes and can be committed without order or permission from a judge, i.e. an indictment or arrears. However, only an officer who is not underneath the level of police Inspector may carry out an investigation.
In 1989, the rules on Orissa freedom of religion were published, which “needed the priest to conduct a conversion ceremony so as to “specify the date, time, place of procedure and the individuals’ phone numbers and addresses to be converted before the 15 days of the ceremony to the District Magisterium concerned.” If this is not done, 1,000 rupees will be fined. The Orissa Court stated in 1973 that ‘ultra vires the Constitution’ is the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967. In its conclusions, the Court held that “the term ‘driving’ is unclear, and certain proselytising activities could be subject to the definition and restrictions set out in Article 25(1) cannot be said to include broad definitions” and that “there was no competence in state legislature” “which ensures that the spread of religion and conversion is a feature in the Christian religion.” The Court ruled that.
- MADHYA PRADESH
Madhya Pradesh was the second state to adopt the Madhya Pradesh Act on Religious Freedom, 1968, which was an anti-conversion bill. The Act does not use “inductivity.” Rather than using the word “inductivity,” the expression “allurement” is defined as a “offer of some temptation in the form, I of any present or gratification, in money or in kind; and (ii) a provision, monetary or otherwise, of some material gain.” Article 3 of the Act specifies that ‘No one, by using coercion, by allurement, or by other dishonest means, shall convert or try to convert any person, either directly and in any way, of one religious belief into another and not encourage any person to convert.’ The offence is punishable by up to one year’s incarceration, up to 5,000 rupees or both. When a minor, woman or individual belonging in a SC/ST is imposed, a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to10000 rupees can be increased. The sentence is not exceeded.
Under Article 5 of the Act, the religious leader or the person who converts a person within the seven days after the date of that ceremony shall notify the District Magistrate of conversion. In 2006 Madhya Pradesh failed to implement amending legislation that requires the priest, one month prior to such conversion, to notify the district officer of the details of this conversion, including the day, day, place and address of the person whose religions will be cleaning ceremony, in which such conversion occurs. If not, up to a year in jail, a fine up to 5,000 rupees or both would have been punishable. In turn the amendment would have allowed those who wished to convert to another faith to declare their will to change religion “who wanted to change their religion by themselves and at his convenience” before the district magistrate or the executive magistrate specially authorised by the district magistrate of the relevant District. Unfortunately, a fine of 1,000 rupees was imposed if it was not declared. Once the evidence was sent, the District Magistrate was to provide the Police Inspector, who had reviewed the matter in time and make sure there was no complaint and submitted to the District Magistrate his findings. But Governor Balram Jakhar of the Madhaya Pradesh directed an amendment bill to the President who declined to give it an approval because he felt that it “violated the constitutionally protected freedom of worship, since it demanded prior authorization.”
- ARUNACHAL PRADESH
A number of anti-conversion laws preceded the high courts in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. In 1978 too though, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh and the States that enacted anti-conversion rules. In 1978 the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act included the antimonopoly laws of the State of Arunachal-Pradesh. Rules of Odisha and Madhya Pradesh identical. This Legislation was passed on 25 October 1978 in the light of the alleged danger to indigenous religions. For now, it could not be implemented, although, as it still hasn’t been established by the government.
As the result of the partitioning of the southeast districts of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh was created in November 2000. The rule of anti-conversion of Madhya Pradesh is said to have been maintained by Chhattisgarh under the heading Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968. The subsidiary regulations for the Act have also been maintained. The state legislature, which the BJP controlled, amended the 1968 Act to make it more restrictive in 2006, but the bill is still pending assent. The amendment would reframe the term “conversion” to state that “every person’s return of fore-fathers original religion or his own original religion shall not be interpreted as ‘conversion.” The measure also increases punishment and fines for forced convergence, requires a district magistrate to give prior approval prior to the conversion, requires that the magistrate may receive a notice thirty days before the conversion and authorises the magistrate to permit or refuse an individual to convert from a religious faith t after an investigation order. This order is subject to appeal only to a district judge, “whose ruling is absolute.” The law states that someone found guilty of transforming a citizen in breach of the order of a district judiciary commits a cognizable crime punishable by up to three years in custody and up to a fine of 20,000 rupees.
The Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 was adopted by the Gujarat Assembly in March 2003. It was renamed the law on freedom of religion Dharam Swatantrata Vidheya. This Act was considered one of the principal accomplishments of his administration, as was then Chief Minister of the State and now our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The statute prevented forcible or induced conversion.
- HIMACHAL PRADESH, RAJASTHAN & JHARKAND
A precursor of the current legislation on anti-conversion in other Indian countries was the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religions Act, 2006, which became law on 18 February 2007. The State of Rajasthan had adopted an Anti-Conversion Bill in 2006, named Rajasthan Dharma Swatantraya Bill in 2008, but at the time the Governor of the State did not give him approval. On 12 August 2017, Jharkhand Dharm Swatantra passed the Legislative Assembly’s bill of Jharkand Freedom of Religion 2017.
The High Court of Uttarakhand delivered a ruling on 20 November 2017 in connection with a habeas corpus petition suggesting that the Government of Madhya Pradesh should pass an anti-conversion legislation. In certain of these circumstances, conversion was carried out to promote the process of marriage and it was mentioned that it was not the first instance of this situation to be considered concerning interreligious marriages. The government is required not to harm citizens’ religious feelings but to enact a Freedom of Religion Act (Freedom of Religion Act, 1968, analogy to a Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968), and a Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006. The State Government presented the bill to the State Assembly on 21 March 2018, four months after the order of the High Court. This proposal came into being as an Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act 2018, which had been approved by the Assembly and signed by the governor on 18 April 2018.
- UTTAR PRADESH
The Uttar Pradesh Restriction on the Unlawful Religious Conversion of 2020, passed on 28 November 2020 by the Government of UP, is a highly debated bill which has been discussed for several days and is now being treated as a Love Jihad law. The Ordinance shall punish for breach of its terms and other sanctions for up to 10 years. In two cases, it targeted religious conversion. Firstly, conversion circumstances by deception, misrepresentation and bribery are often unproblematic because other state laws in various States can often be accompanied by similar clauses.
In the second case, the transfer is ‘for the sole reason of marriage.’ In accordance with Section 6 of this Ordinance marriages for the express purpose of illegal conversion or vice versa are considered nil. In reality, this is full of controversy.
WHAT IS THE LAW ON SPECIAL MARRIAGES?
The Special Marriage Act of 1954 allows for a structure for inter-caste and interfaith marriages; civil marriage can be registered in courts under this provision, without the need to change to another. The Victorian-era protectionist clauses of this Legislation were first enforced in 1872 by several revisions over the years.
This legislation has been criticised for:
• The statute provides a 30-day notice, in which the wedding couple’s particulars are seen “prominently” to receive objections.
• While the purpose of this clause is to identify the risk that one of the marrying parties may have deception, it has proved to be problematic as marrying couples facing marriage abuse.
• In certain cases, municipal councils use the 30-day warning to impose on spouses even onerous requirements.
• No other religious marriage legislation in India needs notice of marriage by the government or by third parties. This clause makes relatives and others aware of the imminent marriage and tries to deter the couple.
• If a undivided member of the Hindu family (in particular, the Buddhist, Sikh or Jain) marries under this Act, his paternal family “serves.” They are thereby without the right to a legacy.
States have the legal power to regulate religious conversions and interreligious marriages under the Constitution. These rules, nevertheless, must be supported by facts, testimony, and patterns. Simultaneously time, they must protect the individuals’ rights to dignity, independence, and personal liberty, as well as their right to life and privacy, with minimal intervention by the state and society at large.
- Image source – https://images.newindianexpress.com/uploads/user/imagelibrary/2018/7/1/w600X300/religion_generic.jpg
- Karishma, (2021, Jan, 19), Anti Conversion Laws In India – Challenges and way ahead https://www.iasexpress.net/anti-conversion-laws-in-india-challenges-and-way-ahead/
- Dr Atrey, Abhishek (2021, Jan, 22) Anti Conversion Laws and Their Constitutionality https://www.indialegallive.com/top-news-of-the-day/news/anti-conversion-laws-and-their-constitutionality/