Faith and freedom: On Combating Forcible Religious Conversion : Daily Current Affairs

Date: 08/12/2022

Relevance: GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Key Phrases: Public Interest Litigation (PIL), deceitful religious conversion, Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, Article 25, Indian Conversion Bill, malafide conversions, anti-conversion laws.

Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court is hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking action to curb deceitful religious conversion in the country.

What is religious conversion?

  • Religious conversion is the adoption of a set of beliefs identified with one particular religious denomination to the exclusion of others.
  • Thus "religious conversion" would describe the abandoning of adherence to one denomination and affiliate with another.
  • This might be from one to another denomination within the same religion, for example, from Baptist to Catholic Christianity or from Sunni Islam to Shi’a Islam.

What is the issue?

  • The Gujarat government is seeking the removal of a stay on a provision in its anti-conversion law that requires prior permission from the District Magistrate for any conversion done “directly or indirectly”.
  • High court’s stand:
    • The Gujarat High Court had stayed Section 5 of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 (amended in 2021 to include ‘conversion by marriage’), while also staying the operation of other provisions that sought to cover inter-faith marriages as instances of illegal conversion.
    • The High Court had noted that the prior permission requirement would force someone to disclose one’s religious belief or any change of faith, contrary to Supreme Court rulings that say marriage and faith involve an individual’s choice.
  • Gujarat government’s stand:
    • Gujarat argued that the stay on Section 5 is affecting even genuine inter-faith marriages that involve no fraud or coercion, as those who usually solemnize such marriages are unable to do so.
    • This is based on a claim that the prior permission requirement obviates the need to question the genuine nature of the conversion, if any, consequent upon an inter-religious marriage.
  • Concerns:
    • Freedom of religion is protected only when no questions are raised and no suspicion is entertained based on the mere fact that an inter-faith marriage has taken place.
    • Forcing someone to disclose an intent to change one’s faith violates freedom of conscience and the right to privacy.

Constitutional Provision:

  • The Indian Constitution under Article 25 guarantees the freedom to profess, propagate, and practice religion, and allows all religious sections to manage their own affairs in matters of religion, subject to public order, morality, and health.
  • However, no person shall force their religious beliefs and consequently, no person should be forced to practice any religion against their wishes.

Trial for a National Law:

  • Post India’s independence, many anti-conversion bills were introduced in the Parliament. But unfortunately, none got enforced.
  • The first bill was introduced in 1954 and was called the Indian Conversion Bill.
    • The idea behind this bill was to license the missionaries, and anybody who gets converted should be registered with the Government officials. However, the bill did not get the required support in Lok Sabha.
  • The next bill or anti-conversion law was brought to Parliament in 1960 and was called Backward Communities Bill. This bill stated Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism as non-Indian religions. And it aimed to discover the conversion of Hindus to these non-Indian religions.
    • This bill was followed by the Freedom of Religion Bill in 1979. This bill also crashed in Parliament by not gathering enough support. It aimed at curbing inter-religious conversions.
  • Finally, in 2015, the union law ministry said that it is not possible to enforce a bill on fraudulent religious conversions at the national level.
    • Since these matters come under the states, the states are free to enact state anti-conversion laws in India as per the constitution.

State Laws:

  • Many states have passed the ‘Freedom of Religion’ ordinance to restrict or reduce forceful or fraudulent religious conversions.
  • Such laws are presently enacted in eight states for years. These states, in order of enactment, are,
    • Odisha in 1967
    • Madhya Pradesh in 1968
    • Arunachal Pradesh in 1978
    • Chhattisgarh in 2000 and 2006
    • Gujarat in 2003
    • Himachal Pradesh in 2006 and 2019
    • Jharkhand in 2017
    • Uttarakhand in 2018
  • Interestingly, the anti-conversion laws in HP and Uttarakhand declare a marriage to be void if the main reason behind the marriage was conversion.
  • States like Tamil Nadu in 2002 and Rajasthan in 2006 and 2008 also passed similar clauses. But unfortunately, for Tamil Nadu, it got repealed in 2006 due to protests by Christian minorities. And for Rajasthan, the State Governor and the President of India did not pass their consent on it.


  • All the states in India have the authority to enact laws that can control religious conversions and inter-faith marriages.
  • With this at the same time there should be a balance and must uphold the right to equality, the right to freedom and personal liberty, the right to privacy, and the right to life and these laws need to afflict a balance between the freedoms and malafide conversions of one’s religion to another religion.

Source: The Hindu

Mains Question:

Q. Why is there a need for an anti-conversion law in India, and what should be the key elements of the new law to strike a balance between freedom to choose a religion and mala fide conversions?