ANTI – CONVERSION LAWS: A THREAT TO THE INDIAN CONSTITUTION

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  1. INTRODUCTION

India’s notion of religion is not only social, political, and economic, but it is also emotionally distinct from India’s worldview. Religion has a significant influence on elections and is one of the most significant political factors. Before one can comprehend the particulars and dynamics of state religion, one must first understand the country’s cultural and democratic potential. Diversity is the soul and magnificence of Indian society. Religion has a solid foundation in India, with specific religions.

The birth of a human being is considered to be an attribution of sorts, credit to a specific race, caste (in the Indian aspect), status, and religion. Regardless of whether such credits are fit for modification and assuming in this way, how much has been a subject of human request, a social undertaking (for example in the movements of backward class to dispose of caste based disparities in India) just as contemporary political way of thinking.

Any conversation on religion in open arena in India (instead of religion being a subconscious human experience) consequently throws light on secularism or all the more explicitly Indian framework of secularism. There can be no common model of secularism as there exists no general religion.[1]

The Indian Constitution says India is a secular state, and further strengthened by granting freedom of faith as a basic right to its citizens. The idea of secularism as enshrined in Article 25-28 of the Constitution. Since the constitution was established, the notion of ‘secularism’ has not been incorporated into the Constitution but has subsequently become part of the fundamental framework of the constitution with its 42nd amendment in 1976. Thereby the term “secular” was inserted in the basic structure of the constitution.[2]

India is home to a diverse range of religions and civilizations. The Indian subcontinent as a whole is home to four major religions: Buddhism, Jainism, Ayurveda, and Sikhs. According to census data, 79.80 percent of India’s population is Hindu, 14.23 percent Muslim, 2.30 percent Christianity, 1.72 percent Sikh, 0.70 percent Buddhism, and 0.37 percent Jain.

The act of converting religion is forbidden in India. Nobody could either directly or otherwise convert or try to convert by force, enticement, or other fraudulent means any indigenous individual or any person shall support the conversion thereof.

Religious liberty and pro trump laws are state laws that control, and possibly expel, spiritual converts, particularly in India. There are eight out of our twenty nine states in India, which are, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand that have laws in place. There are significant differences in state laws, although they are fairly similar in essence & shape.

Violating regulations are punishable under a range of punitive sanctions, from financial penalties to prison; punishments may range from one to three years in jail to between 5,000 and 50,000 INR fines.

Indeed, even in states where one can apply for conversion, the public authority doesn’t give permission openly. In Gujarat, the state government got 1,838 applications of conversion over a five-year period, 94.4 per cent of which were from Hindus mentioning to change over to another religion.[3] The public authority endorsed just 878 of the applications, or 47.8 per cent. Nonetheless, a few experts accept the public authority has not properly recorded every one of the applications, and that a lot more have applied to convert.134

But if the Indian Constitution takes a different view, it offers freedom to practice and promote any religion one chooses. Freedom to preach provides the freedom to communicate and propagate one’s faith within one’s limits. This makes it difficult to tell if a person is influencing someone forcibly to convert or merely trying to disseminate his beliefs. This misunderstanding could cause many people to misuse anti-conversion law.

The Indian state is likewise engaged to manage matters coincidental to religion or at the end of the day secular activities related with strict practices however the state isn’t allowed to meddle with the strict matters in that capacity. What the state can control under article 25(2)(a) are the exercises which are truly of a monetary, business or political nature, however, these might be related with strict practices.[4] Further strict divisions have additionally been offered opportunity to build up and keep up foundations for strict and altruistic purposes; to deal with its own issues in issue of religion; to claim and gain portable and immoveable property and to direct such property as per law.[5] To summarize, the Indian situation on the freedom of religion involves non impedance of the state in strict issue and the solitary reasonable obstruction is restricted to issue accidental to religion.

  • HISTORY OF ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS

Anti-conversion legislation is an old tradition in the Indian subcontinent. The Hindu Princess States in particular adopted legislation banning religious conversions During Britain Colonial period in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Soon before Indian independence, the Senate proposed a slew of anti-conversion measures, but none of them saw the sunlight of day.

 In 1954 it was first recommended that there should be the Regulation of the Indian Conversion and the Registration Bill demanding that missionaries’ licenses be complied with and that the Conversion Register should be recorded with government authorities. In the second house of parliament, such a bill did not receive majority support and was rejected by its members. After this law failed, another version of the Backward Groups (Religious Protection) Legislation was established in 1960. In 1979 they sought “formal restraints” in the context of interfaith conversion. The Bill seeks to ensure that the Hindus have to transform themselves into “non-Indian” religions, consisting of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Because of the absence of legislative support, the Parliament did not also pass this law.

The present administration’s ministers backed the national approval of a countrywide anti-conversion law, which is an infringement on the secular ideals of the Indian Penal code. According to numerous humanitarian organizations in 2015, “a nationwide anti-conversion regulation was called for in India.” “To outlaw, the religious conversion without government approval, two MPs of the ruling party offered to adopt anti-conversion measures in both parliamentary houses.

The current administration’s proposal to adopt Legislation, however, supposedly “hits a snag” with the Council of Law and Justice, which warns that the change is not “suitable” because it is “solely an issue of state”—that has been, a subject which falls within the constitutional professionalism of States specified in Article seven of its Bill of rights.

Religious liberty laws were passed at the national level to restrict spiritual converts by coercion, fraud, or other means.

Also read: CITIZENSHIP BILL

  • INSTANCES OF CONVERSION

In India, religious minority groups have frequently subjected to religious violence, despite their rich heritage and legal framework supporting the freedom for conscience and the ability to practice, profess and spread their own choice of faith.

Human rights organizations report that- “in 2015 there were more than 160 Christian-targeted incidents, the most instances being from Madhya Pradesh, followed by Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.” Physical attacks, threats and intimidation were also mentioned. In certain cases, women have been reported to be sexually attacked and endangered.

More than 630 community incidents occurred in January to October 2015 according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. In the first five months of 2015, the number of occurrences in India was up 24% and the number of associated deaths up 65%.[6]

The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USSIRF) noted in its 2015 Annual Report that since general elections in India in 2014 “derogatory comments from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ‘numerous violent assaults and forced conversions of Hindu-nationalist groups’ have been made by religious minorities, including Rashtriy Swa (VHP).”[7]

  • STATE-LEVEL ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS

The Laws on Religious Freedom and “anti-conversion laws” are state laws governing religious changes which are not just voluntary. Orissa and Madhya Pradesh were the first to adopt such legislation following a Union or Central failure.

The Odisha Religious Liberty Act (1967) was passed in 1967, and it states no one should discriminate on the basis of religions, using deception, coercion, allurement, or incitement, convert anybody directly or otherwise from one religion to neither another nor any person shall encourage any of these conversions. The breach of this legislation would include a sentence of up to one year in jail or a penalty of up to Rs 5000. In the situation for the juvenile, if someone is a wife or a member of a specific caste or community, the sentence may be two years in jail and a fine of up to 10,000 rupees. The Act gives the definition of “conversion” as disavowing one religion and embracing another.30 It further interprets “force” to incorporate a demonstration of force or a danger of injury of any sort, including the danger of heavenly disappointment or social excommunication.31 Under the Act, “inducement” incorporates the proposal of any blessing or satisfaction, either in real money or in kind, and will likewise incorporate the award of any advantage, either financial or otherwise,”32 and “fraud” incorporates deception or some other fraudulent creation. In 1973, the Orissa High Court declared the Act invalid because of a lack of the power to legislate on religious subjects for the State Assembly[9]. The judgement was overturned in the Stainislaus case by the Supreme Court of India.

Madhya Pradesh Government also adopted Dharma SwatantrayaAdhiniyam in 1967. The Madhya Pradesh Constitutional Court, on the other hand, disagreed with the Orissa Judiciary and invalidated certain Christian claims that Article 25 of the Constitution infringes their basic right. The two courts’ decisions were brought to justice before the Supreme Court but the SCC 677, in the case of Rev. Stanislaus v. Madhya Pradesh[11], upheld the Madhya Pradesh Tribunal decision and reverses it, and retained Orissa’s Free Religion Act, 1967 and Madhya Pradesh Dhardesh Act. The Supreme Court upheld Orissa’s decision and reversed Orissa’s High Tribunal’s decision.

  • ARUNACHAL PRADESH[12]

Orissa and Madhya Pradesh’s high court decisions followed a series of anti-conversion legislation. In 1978, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Arunachal Pradesh passed the law on the fight against the changeover. The Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 1978 provides for anti-conversion legislation. The legislation is identical to Orissa and Madhya Pradesh’s approvals. Given the expected risk to tribal judgments, the president signed this bill on October 25, 1978. This can, nevertheless, be executed unless the administration establishes the rules necessary for its execution.

In Nov 2000, the state of Chhattisgarh was formed from the southeastern areas of Madhya Pradesh. Chhattisgarh kept the Madhya Pradesh State bashing law and enacted it in 1968 as the Chhattisgarh Religious freedom Act. The subsidiary rules governing the Act’s implementation were also maintained. Later that year, in 2006, the act was amended by the state assembly to make it more stringent.

According to the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act of 2002, no one shall attempt to change from one denomination to another force, allurement, or other misleading tactics. If anybody was found guilty of compelling conversion of one’s religion, the Act enforced a fine of up to 50,000 rupees and three years of detainment. However, following the dissolution of the Bhartiya Janata Dal-Secular alliance in 2004, the Tamil Nadu group headed by Jayalalithaa quashed the act.

Gujarat’s Government enacted the Freedom Of religion Act in March 2003. It was known as the Dharam Swatantrata Vidheya-Free Religion Act. The idea behind the Act is to forbid religious conversions one from the other by the utilization of force, allurement, or fraudulent methods. The then Chief Minister of the State, now the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, referred to this Act as one of his administration’s most significant accomplishments in the previous year. Convert by force or inducement was prohibited by law.

On April 1, the anti-conversion law, entitled the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2021, was passed by Gujarat’s Legislative Assembly. The new law has altered Gujarat’s anti-conversion law by condemning marriages accomplished for the sole motivation of converting religion and characterizing fraudulent allurements as guarantees of a superior way of life, divine endowments, or impersonation.

As indicated by the law, people looking to change their religion should apply to the district magistrate 60 days ahead of time. Religious pioneers working with conversions will likewise have to educate the region organization 60 days ahead of time. In the event that the provisions of the law are not followed, violators could confront a sentence of three to five years in prison and a monetary punishment of 50,000 rupees.

  • UTTARAKHAND

In a habeas corpus case on 20 November 2017, the High Court of Uttarakhand decided that the state govt. should pass anti-conversion legislation such as the government of the State of Madhya. In this case, the Court observed that inter-religious marriages were not initially addressed and that in certain circumstances the process of marriage was facilitated using a simulation. The state regulates the passing of the Freedom from Religion Act, analogous to the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act in 1968 and the Himachal Pradesh Freedom from Religion Act (2006). On March 21, 2018, 4 months after the High Court’s decision, the Provincial govt. submitted the measure to the State Legislature. On 18 April, the Assembly authorized the project, which was signed by the Governor and implemented under Uttarakhand’s Religious freedom Act 2018.

  • UTTAR PRADESH

On 28 November 2020, Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religions Regulation, 2020, approved a much-discussed law against Love Jihad and is now a day. This Ordinance shall penalize for breach of its requirements and other penalties for 10 years. Under two cases it aimed at religious conversion. Initially, conversion circumstances through deception, misrepresentation, or coercion are usually non-problematic, as other current State laws in other countries also provide for comparable remedies. The second is the conversion ‘made only for marriage.’ Section 6 of the Ordinance provides for the declaration of invalid marriages made only for illegal conversion or vice versa. This is full of debate.

  • HIMACHAL PRADESH[16]

In 2006, the Himachal Pradesh Virbhadra Singh led govt. was the first Congress-administered state to pass an anti-conversion law. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act was focused on announced conversions done by Christian preachers in the slope state. Before long there were reports that Christian associations had griped about the law to the Congress High Command and later moved to the the High Court.

More than 13 years on, the state government led by Jai Ram Thakur government has corrected the law with the imprisonment raised from three to seven years. It has likewise widened the extent of the law to manage what Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) calls “love jihad”. Late August, 2019, the Bill was passed consistently with the Congress moving it in the House. Among the eight new arrangements included the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2019 is one that covers marriage committed with the sole motivation of conversion.

  • RAJASTHAN

The state legislative assembly of Rajasthan additionally passed an anti-conversion bill in 2006[17], however, it was never given consent by the state’s governor.[18] According to one report, the lead representative didn’t sign the bill as a result of grumblings by the minorities.[19] Under the bill, “conversion” was characterized as “disavowing one’s own religion and embracing another,” and “own religion” was portrayed as “one’s forefathers’ religion.”[20] Punishment for conversion is two years’ detainment, which may stretch out to five years, and fines of up to 50,000 rupees.

  • JHARKHAND

12 August 2017, the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly approved the 2017 Dharm Swatantra Jharkhand Freedom Bill, the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Bill. The Bill has arrangement for detainment of three years and fine of Rs 50,000 or both, and long term detainment and Rs 1 lakh fine, or both, if the person who had the religion converted is below 18 years, a woman or an individual from Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe. It additionally says that a person changing over energetically should illuminate the Deputy Commissioner about subtleties like time, place and the person who regulates the conversion procedures.

5.     LEGAL OBLIGATION

  • INDIAN ASPECT

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution establishes the freedom to exercise and disseminate religion, yet it violates the norms of religious freedom by restricting the capacity to disseminate and requiring intimacy or prior permission for all converts. In India, ‘all individuals’ enjoy considerable religious rights, according to Articles 25-28 of the Indian Constitution. Article 25(1) guarantees religion freedom, the ability to declare, practise, and “spiritual propagation.”.

A man’s subjective feeling of good or evil is referred to as consciousness. Freedom of Religion indicates that a person is free, regarded for his/her spiritual well-being, to have any belief or teaching. This indicates that a state cannot investigate the religious or moral views of an individual or take them into account. A person is free to believe in a certain religious principle of his choice. Freedom of conscience, the freedom to carry out exterior activities according to this religion is extremely unique.

Article 26 addresses religious freedom including religious rituals such as baptism. In addition, Article 19(1)(a) provides for the right to freedom of expression to be granted to all people. The Acts which contain Divine displeasure in the definition of “force” violate that right.

Furthermore, the compulsory provision of data on conversions required under the law violates Article 19(1)(b) and (c) which allows any person to gather peacefully. In addition, in several of this legislation, the exclusion of ‘reconversions’ breaches the principle to equal rights before the law as promised under Article 14.[21]

  • INTERNATIONAL COVENANTS

In additional to the 1968 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the World Summit on the Reduction of Statelessness, the India has cooperated with a number of treaties that are opposed to convert laws. The ICCPR, for example, issued a joint Article.

Article 18 of the ICCPR guarantees free speech, conscience, and worship. In civilised societies, religious liberty and thought is seen as a basic human right. Art.18 of the UDHR safeguards all rights, including the ability to change faith and religion, as well as the freedom of thought, mind, and religious belief. India, as a democratic republic, has also given to all people equal freedom of conscience, profession, practice, and religious expansion by its secular credentials.

For any democratic constitution, religious and conscientious freedom is viewed as vital. Today, in the industrialized world, freedom is not the retention of individual convictions but the lack of religion. Spirituality and thought seem to be the most essential aspects of humanity, and any restriction with their free exercise would be a serious infringement of civil liberties. The able to hold and modify beliefs is critical for human growth. It is the search for one’s own significance and the desire to discover one’s own identity.

As a result, religious liberty is reflected in a number of international documents8, including the UNHRD, the International African charter Rights, the Declaration on Spiritual or Believing Elimination, the Eu National conference on Human Rights Safety, the American Convention against Torture, and the Security Council. Under any circumstance, including war, the guarantee for freedom of religion is not palpable (e.g., it cannot be halted at any time) under Art. 4(2) of the ICCPR and Art. 27(2) of the Americana Convention.

At the 48th Session of the Human Rights Committee, when considering paragraph 3 of Article 189 of the ICCPR, Article 18 stipulated that free-thinking, conscience, religion, or belief was a distinction from the liberty of religion or belief to express itself. It does not allow any restriction on the free-thinking and conscience or the free choice of religion or belief. It does not allow any limitations. These liberties are unreservedly safeguarded and everybody’s right not to interfere with Article 19 (1). No one can be obliged to disclose one’s ideas or commitment to religion or belief, in line with Articles 18(2) and 17.

By Article 18 of the ICCPR, the State parties to the agreement may thus impose limitations on demonstrations which may be legally mandated and essential for safeguarding the “public security, order,” “health” and “moral” of others or basic rights and freedom of others.

6.    JUDICIAL INTERPRETATION

  • STANISLAUS JUDGEMENT[22]
  • In its Latest decision, the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutionality of Madhya Pradesh and Odisha’s anti-conversion law.
    • It overruled the judgement of the High Court stating within this ruling that these regulations were meant to avoid disturbance of public order by prohibiting religious marriages “in a manner that is morally reprehensible to the moral of the nation.”
      • It determined that Article 25 of the Constitution does not include freedom of religion to freely proclaim, exercise, and disseminate and that it is not right to convert.
      • Article 25 states that all persons are free to practice, practice, and promote religion freely.
      • The liberty to spread religions or show religious principles gives the ability to reveal them. The ability to persuade somebody to one’s beliefs, on the other hand, is not covered.
      • Forcible conversion violates Article 25, which deals with ‘mind autonomy.’
      • The High Court also found that conversion is not a basic right and that it must be regulated by the State.
  • On ninth April 2018, the Supreme Court conveyed its judgment in two seperate coinciding viewpoints. It turned around the Kerala High Court’s judgment, where it annuled Hadiya’s marriage to Shafin Jahan.
  • It was held that clothes and food, ideas and philosophy, love, and collaboration are all critical elements of personality.
  • No state or legislation may prescribe partners’ selection or limit any person’s free capacity to decide on such things.
  • The choice of a partner, be it via marriage or outside, is part of the “personality and identity of an individual.”
  • K.S. PUTTASWAMY CASE[24]
  • In the landmark judgement, it was stated that the individual’s autonomy is the capacity to take decisions on life-related issues.
  • Every State intervention in the right to love and to marry an adult has a “cooling impact” on freedom.
  • Marriage intimacy exists in a core, inviolable area of seclusion.
  • An individual is not less impacted by questions of faith as to the absolute right to choose a life partner.
  • In the landmark case of Lata Singh, a woman’s right to choice was offered with the unwavering support by the Supreme Court.
  • It was stated by the Supreme Court that the nation is through a “crucial time of transition.” And only if we accept the multiplicity and uniqueness of our culture can the Constitution stay strong.
  • Families that are disgusted with interfaith marriage might decide not to violence or harassment but not to “break social relationships” away.

7.    CONCLUSION

There are various problems in the world today; one of them is the religious war. The questions of religious freedom also have the obligation for a state to respect a degree of sensitivity, and thus the state must control some activities. The state also must protect the peace of society.

The struggles for any democratic administration include the preservation of a balance between freedom and the interests of society. If we analyze religious liberty, then in the context of conversion, we find that, under Article 25 of India’s Constitution, the freedom of conscience is inherent in the capacity to change faith as well as Article 18 of the high levels of human rights. Free religion to change encompasses the liberty to select one’s faith. No one could be subjected to a significant impact that’d impinge on his ability to preserve his preferred religious faith, as per Art. 18(2) of the ICCPR. Although there are few religions where spreading is important to a certain religion as a method of converting others does not indicate that that right is absolute.

In the end one can construe that right to freedom of religion would be delusional in the event that one was not permitted to transform it, obviously with no intimidation or allurement. All the major global instruments unequivocally notice the right to conversion as verifiable morally justified to freedom of religion. If a person freely changes to the next religion, the State must protect him but also the whole social structure of the civilization, ensuring that his new loyal identity does not create disturbance in society. As a result, the government is obligated to respect and protect the rights of individuals.

Freedom of religion is key to the success of men’s minds and personalities; nevertheless, this is not the only criteria, since it is very contentious, but whether the Acts are therefore unlawful is a question. This should be made clear by the administration.


[1] Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2003)

[2]National anti-conversion law not tenable: Law Ministry Deccan Herald, available at: https://www.deccanherald.com/content/471944/national-anti-conversion-law-not.html (last visited Jun 20, 2021)

[3] In Gujarat, 94.4% of those seeking to convert are Hindu, TIMES OF INDIA, available at:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/In-Gujarat-94-4-of-those-seekingto-convert-are-Hindu/articleshow/51419977.cms. (last visited: Mar. 16, 2016)

[4] Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. State of Bombay, AIR 1954 SC 388.

[5] The Constitution of India, art 26.

[6] Tnn, “Communal violence shows 24% jump in first five months of 201 5, shows govt data”, The Times of India, July 22, 2015

[7] USCIRF Annual Report 2015, India, available at: https://ili.ac.in/cstyle.pdf (Last visited on June 23, 2021)

[8]Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967

[9] Yulitha Hyde & Ors. v. State of Orissa & Ors. A.I.R. 1973 116 (Ori)

[10]Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968

[11] 1977 AIR 908

[12]THE ARUNACHAL PRADESH FREEDOM OF RELIGION ACT, 1978 Perma.cc, https://perma.cc/9THA-9M2C (last visited Jun 20, 2021)

[13]Chhattisgarh passes anti-conversion bill Gulfnews.com, https://gulfnews.com/world/asia/india/chhattisgarh-passes-anti-conversion-bill-1.248514 (last visited Jun 20, 2021)

[14]The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act, 2002

[15]Gujarat Act, 2003 (Act 22 OF 2003).

[16]The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2006

[17] Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill, 2006 (Act 12 of 2006)

[18] Cable 64917: Rajasthan Governor Refuses to Sign Anti-conversion Bill, The Hindu, available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/the-india-cables/the-cables/64917-Rajasthan-governor-refuses-to-sign-anti-conversion-bill/article14690462.ece (Last updated Sept. 27, 2016)

[19] Rajasthan Religion Bill Rejected, BBC News, available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4996708.stm (last modified: Friday, 19 May 2006)

[20] Rajasthan Freedom of Religion Bill, 2006, s. 2(c)

[21] The Constitution of India.

[22]Rev. Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1977) 1 SCC 677

[23]Shafin Jahan v. Ashokan K.M (2018) 16 SCC 408

[24]Justice K. S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. vs Union Of India And Ors (2017) 10 SCC 1

[25]Lata Singh vs. State Of U.P. & Anr (2006) 5 SCC 475

Author: Sanjana Bishnoi, Bennett University

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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