“To change one’s religion under the threat of force is no conversion but rather cowardice.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Religious conversion can be defined as acquiring a set of beliefs identified with one particular religion to debar others. Anti-Conversion laws are formulated to prohibit conversions by fraud or force. The law proscribes individuals from converting from one religion to another WITHOUT having faith in the religion they are converting to. The law owes its genesis to colonial India. Currently, 10 states in India have implemented anti-conversion laws. The laws are practically identical. The Quantum of punishment for violating the laws ranges from imposing fines and imprisonment.
WHAT DOES THE ANTI-CONVERSION LAW SAY?
The sole purpose of Anti-Conversion law is to safeguard individuals from unlawful conversion from one religion to another by influence, misrepresentation, force, coercion, or by any other fraudulent means. In case of forced conversion, it proposes a prison term of up to 10 years. The law stipulates that an advance declaration of 60 days should be given to the District Magistrate signifying the will of the individual for conversion without any undue influence, force, coercion. A Marriage can be declared as null and void by the court which has been done for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion, or vice-versa.
SATES HAVE PASSED ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS
- Arunachal Pradesh
In the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1978 “conversion” is defined as “renouncing one religious faith and adopting another religious faith.” Section 3 of the Act strictly prohibits a person to convert from one religious faith or attempting to convert by any fraudulent means. The Act punishes imprisonment up to two years and a fine of up to ten thousand rupees to any person who contravenes the provisions.
Odisha marked history by becoming the first state to enact an Anti-Conversion law in 1967. In the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967 “forcible conversion” is criminalized and it is punishable. Section 3 of the Act punishes a person who contravenes the provision with imprisonment of up to one year, a fine of up to 5,000 rupees, or both. The term of imprisonment shall be increased to a maximum of two years and the fine increased to 10,000 rupees if the offence is committed in respect of a person who belongs to an SC/ST or a minor.
- Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968 prohibits a person to convert from one religious faith to another by the use of force or allurement or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise. Penal provisions are defined in Section 4 of the Act. The Act punishes a person with imprisonment of up to one year or with a fine of up to five thousand rupees or with both. If the crime is against a woman, minor, or a person of SC/ST the punishment shall be imprisonment which can be extended up to two years, and fine up to ten thousand rupees.
After being carved out, Chhattisgarh adopted the ‘Chhattisgarh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968’. The state legislature further amended the Act in the year 2006. Post amendment the Act became more stringent, the penalty was extended to imprisonment of up three-year and a fine of Rs. 20,000/- will be charged for who abets religious conversion by fraudulent means The Amended Act, Chhattisgarh Religion Freedom (Amendment) Act, 2006 also provided provision for individuals who wish to adopt other religions are free to do so after obtaining prior permission from the local district magistrate 30 days.
Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 is identical to other Anti-conversion laws. It states that A person cannot convert either directly or otherwise, from one religion to another by allurement or by fraud. It also penalizes a person with rigorous punishment of imprisonment up to three years, and also be liable to a fine, which may extend to Rupees Fifty Thousand. In case the crime is committed against a woman, a minor or a person belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe shall be punished with imprisonment of up to four years and also a fine of up to Rupees one lakh.
- Himachal Pradesh
The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 defines the term “conversion” as renouncing one religion and adopting another. Section 4 of the Act stipulates that a person intending to convert from one religion to another shall give 30-day advance notice to the District Magistrate. Sub-section (2) of Section 4 reiterates that in case a person fails to give advance notice, as required under sub-section (1), shall be punishable with a fine of up to a thousand rupees.
The Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2017 states that in case any person contravening the provision of the Act will be punishable with three years of jail term or will be levied a fine up to fifty thousand rupees or with both. It further states that whoever fails to send intimation to the District Magistrate about the conversion without sufficient cause, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with a fine which may extend to rupees five thousand or with both.
The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 defines the term “Convincing for conversion” as to renounce one’s religion and adopt beliefs and practise another religion. It states that whoever contravenes the provision will be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year and can be extended up to five years and shall also be liable to fine and in respect of a minor, a woman, or a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than two years but which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.
- Uttar Pradesh
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 defines the penalty in Section 5 of the Act for a person who contravenes the provisions shall be punished with imprisonment up to five years and shall also be liable to fine which shall not be less than rupees fifteen thousand.
Karnataka is the most recent state to adopt Anti-Conversion law on Penal Provision that the offence of conversion is cognizable and non-bailable. Any person who contravenes the law will be imprisoned for a term that may be extended up to three to five years and will be liable for a fine of Rs 25,000. In case the crime is committed against minors, women, and persons from the SC and ST communities jail term of three to ten years, and a fine of Rs. 50,000 will be imposed.
In the present state, Anti-Conversion laws fall under State Government’s sphere. Until now, there is no central enactment limiting religious conversions. The Union Law Ministry of India in the year 2015 enunciated that the Parliament of India does not have the administrative jurisdiction to set forth anti-Conversion legislation. Further, the Government stated that registration, investigation, prosecution, and prevention of religious conversion offences primarily lay in the state’s domain.
It is needless to say that conversion that takes place alongside an inter-faith marriage is unconstitutional as it breaches the privacy of an individual and interferes with the right to marital freedom and freedom of belief. Anti-Conversion Law violates Article 25 of the Constitution of India which matters of religion allow all religions to manage their own affairs. It guarantees the freedom of an individual to propagate, profess, and practice any religion. It also infringes Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides every citizen with the right to freedom to adopt any religion, freedom of thought, and conscience, and freedom to practice, teach and manifest his religion or belief in worship. Hence the Anti – Conversion Law in India is patently subject to much scrutiny.
Author(s) Name: Tanya Dodeja (LCIT Law College)