Anti-Conversion
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This article has been written by Kalhan Safaya.

The crusade inflicted to the new generation masses

The Freedom of Religion Acts and “anti-conversion” rule, mainly practiced in India, is a state-level legislation introduced to govern spiritual converts and ultimately put an end to them. The laws currently exist to eight of our twenty-eight states: Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. There are undoubtedly many differences between the laws of the states, but in their substance and form they are very similar.  All these anti-conversion laws are aimed at preventing any person from converting or trying to convert another person, either directly or otherwise, by means of “forcible” or “fraudulent” means, or by means of “allurement” or “inducement.” However, the anti-conversion laws in Rajasthan and Arunachal Pradesh have certain inherent differences. They seem to exclude, from their prohibitions, the conversion to “native” or “original” faiths, which can be described as very small. There are several harsh penalties for violating the rules, varying from monetary fines to even imprisonment; the sentences levied can vary from one to three years in prison and from 5,000 to 50,000 INR (which corresponds to about US$74 to $735) fines. Some of the laws that fall within the same scope provide for more stringent penalties when certain sections such as: women, children, or members of scheduled castes or schedule tribes (SC / ST) are converted into faiths different from their own.

Despite countless condemnations of India’s anti-conversion legislations, many human rights organizations have stated that these regulations culminated into just a few prosecutions and no convictions at all. It is noted[1] that such laws create a hostile and sometimes violent environment for religious minority communities as they do not require any evidence to support convictions of wrongdoing.

India is a nation where religious beliefs and practices are diverse.  The Indian subcontinent, as a whole, is home to four major world religions— Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism[2]. According to census data reported in 2011, 79.80% of India’s population is Hindu, 14.23% Muslim, 2.30% Christian, 1.72% Sikh, 0.70% Buddhist, and 0.37% Jain.[3]

History of anti-conversion laws

Originally, during the British Colonial era, Hindu princely states adopted laws restricting spiritual conversions— mainly “in the latter half of the 1930s and 1940s.” Such states enacted laws “in an attempt to preserve Hindu religious identity in the face of British missionaries.”[4] There were over a dozen princely states in India, including Kota, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Raigarh, Patna, Surguja and Kalahandi.  Some of that period’s laws include the 1936 Raigarh State Conversion Act; the 1942 Surguja State Apostasy Act; and the 1946 Udaipur State Anti-Conversion Act.

Following the independence of India, a number of anti-conversion bills were introduced by the Parliament, but none were enacted.  First, the Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill was introduced in 1954, which sought to enforce “missionary licensing and registration of conversion with government officials.” This bill somehow failed to gather majority support in Parliament’s lower house and was rejected by its sitting members.  This was followed by the enactment of the Religious Protection Act in 1960, “which aimed at checking the conversion of Hindus to the so-called ‘non-Indian faiths’ that included faiths like Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism[5] as described in the aforementioned Bill.

Ministers of the current government have expressed their support for the adoption at the national level of an anti-conversion law, which, according to several humanitarian institutions, is an attack on the secular values of the Indian Constitution. In 2015, “high-ranking members of the ruling party, called for a national anti-conversion rule.” Two representatives of the ruling party proposed the implementation of anti-conversion bills in both legislative houses “to criminalize religious conversion without the government’s permission[6].” Nonetheless, the proposal of the incumbent government to enact national legislation reportedly “hit a roadblock” with the Ministry of Law and Justice, which cautioned against the change, arguing that it is “not tenable” as it is “strictly a state subject” — i.e., a topic which lies purely within the constitutional jurisdiction of states under the State List in Schedule Seven of the Constitution.

Freedom of religion laws were enacted at the state level to regulate religious conversions by force, fraud, or other inducements, as discussed below.

India’s Freedom of Religion Acts and “anti-conversion rules” are legislation at the state level that is enforced to govern non-purely voluntary spiritual conversions.  Those laws started to be enforced in the 1960s after the inability to pass a Union (or central) anti-conversion legislation and were first implemented by the states of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. Such laws are presently in effect in eight of the twenty-nine states[7]: Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. Several other states, including Manipur, were currently “considering different laws.” In the 1980s, the anti-conversion bill was primarily directed at Muslims trying to convert non-Muslims, although Christianity has gained more publicity since the 1990s because of its affiliation with Western-style colonization and the role played by vigorous proselytizing in being a good Christian.  One researcher says, The object of each draft bill is largely the same: to restrict the ability of communities and individuals to convert ‘from the faith of one’s forefathers,’ often in the name of protecting those who make up the ‘weaker’ or more easily ‘influenced’ sectors of society — including girls, boys, backward castes and untouchables. The anti-conversion laws in Rajasthan and Arunachal do not go any further. Penalties for breaching the laws can range from monetary fines to imprisonment; the laws impose punishments ranging from one to three years of imprisonment and fines of 5,000 to 50,000 Indian rupees (about US$70 to $704). Some of the laws provide for stiffer punishments if women, children, or members of scheduled castes or schedule tribes (SC/ST) are being converted.

SC’s  action

India’s Constitution grants the right under Section 25 to profess exercise or spread one’s religion. In Ratilal Panachand Gandhi v. State of Bombay’s case, the Supreme Court explained this clause by claiming that

every person has a fundamental right under our Constitution not merely to entertain such religious belief as may be approved of by his judgment or conscience but to exhibit his belief and ideas in such overt acts as are enjoined or sanctioned by his religion and further to propagate his religious views for edification of others.

In the Rev Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh’s case Supreme Court questioned whether the right to practice and spread one’s faith also included the ability to convert.  The Court upheld the authenticity of the first laws against conversion: the 1968 Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam, and the 1967 Orissa Freedom of Religion Act. The Court found, as summarized by Professor Laura Jenkins, that “restrictions on efforts to convert are constitutional because such efforts impinge on ‘ freedom of conscience ‘ and ‘ public order. ‘” In one of its findings, the Court held that propagation only indicated persuasion / exposure without coercion and that the right to propagate did not include the right to convert any person.  This holding was summed up by the Court as follows:

 “It has to be remembered that Article 25(1) guarantees “freedom of conscience” to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of one particular religion, and that, in turn, postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, as distinguished from his effort to transmit or spread the tenets of his religion, that would impinge on the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike.”

It must be understood that the freedom of religion enshrined in Article 25 is not granted exclusively in respect of one faith, but includes all religions equally, and an individual may properly enjoy it if he practices his right in a manner commensurate with the like freedom of persons practicing the other religions.  What is liberty for one, in equal measure, is freedom for the other, and therefore there can be no such thing as a fundamental right to turn another man into one’s own religion.

Because Article 25(1) stipulates that the right is essential to ‘ public order, ‘ the Court has held that the acts ‘ clearly provide for the preservation of public order as, if forcible conversion had not been forbidden, it would have generated public disorder in the States, ‘ and that’ the term ‘ public order ‘ is narrowly connoted. ‘

This ruling has been subject to some scholarly opposition for failing to recognize “propagation” as including right to convert and failing to “discuss the meanings of initiation and allurement, which was the main bone of contention” with these rules.  The Supreme Court also did not return to the legislative history of Article 25, according to Professor Mustafa and Professor Sohi — the words propagate was included as a concession in the Constitution to persuade Christians that it would include freedom to convert. Therefore, if one takes the reductionist interpretation of propagation — given the court in this case— such a word would be rendered meaningless in the Indian Constitution. Under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, the mere right to propagate for the enlightenment of others would already be covered by the right to free speech and expression. Therefore, they contend that the freedom to conversion was in reality included in Article 25 and, as such, the Supreme Court’s decision in Stainislaus was not only incorrect, but also contributed to social instability, as Indian Christians believe that they have been cheated in this matter. The assurances provided to them on the incorporation of the word propagate in the Constituent Assembly have not been fulfilled, and the government has done nothing to remedy the situation resulting from the Supreme Court’s highly restrictive definition of the expression propagation.

Execution

Over the years, human rights organizations and institutions have expressed concern about the rights implications of these state anti-conversion laws and the lack of equitable treatment under them.  According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF),”these laws, based on concerns about unethical conversion tactics, generally require government officials to assess only the legality of Hindu conversions, and provide fines and imprisonment for anyone who uses force, fraud, or’ induce’ to convert another.”

A USCIRF report stated that while India stresses ‘complete legal justice’ and prohibits discrimination based on faith, ‘ there are constitutional requirements, state and national laws that do not conform with international standards for religious freedom or conviction, including Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the Universal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The report also stated that “anti-conversion laws by designing and implementing them infringe the right of the individual to convert, favor Hinduism over minority religions, and pose a major challenge to Indian secularism.” Moreover, “these laws have resulted in unfair practices against minorities.”  

On the other side, the Hindu American Foundation, a U.S. advocacy group, reported that

Freedom of religion legislation are designed specifically to discourage vulnerable populations and weak groups, such as children or disadvantaged, uneducated or analphabetes, from being exposed to and falling victim to coercive attempts to force religious conversion in return for or receiving health or humanitarian aid, schooling or jobs.

The laws are viewed by proponents as a conversion restriction “to preserve peace and harmony in plural India.”

Reports of non-Hindus “reconversion” rituals to Hinduism by hardline Hindu nationalist organisations have been growing.  A USCIRF-published report observed that the “reconversion” to Hinduism under the word Ghar Wapsi (returning home) was not protected by any anti-conversion statute.  According to the report, “such exclusion from the purview of religious freedom acts inevitably suggests reconversion through the use of force, fraud or allurement is not punishable under the provisions of these acts.” In December 2014, “Hindu nationalist groups announced plans to ‘ convert ‘ thousands of Christian and Muslim families to Hinduism as part of a so-called Ghar Wapsi (returning home) Program.”

Despite criticism of India’s anti-conversion legislation, several human rights organizations, including the USCIRF, stated that “these regulations resulted in few prosecutions and no convictions.” Studies released in 2010 and 2011 by the US State Department on International Religious Freedom have reported no arrests and no convictions under different anti-conversion laws during the monitoring times.

Nonetheless, according to the USCIRF, some critics recognize that “these laws create a hostile, and sometimes abusive, atmosphere for religious minority groups because they do not include sufficient evidence to support criminality charges.”

More recent reports by USCIRF have highlighted certain incidents of arrests:

  1. As a consequence of these rules, religious minority members and followers are threatened with harassment and detention in 2017. For instance, in June 2017, a Catholic nun was arrested along with four tribal women on suspicion of forced conversion.
  2. Three Christians were detained in the district of Khandwa in April 2017 on the grounds of charges of converting people.
  3. Christians protested in July 2017 in Ludhiana, Punjab, following the murder in public of Sultan Masih, the pastor of the Temple of God Church, on suspicion of his involvement in the conversion of others.

In addition, in its latest international report on religious freedom, the U.S. State Department also highlighted an incident:

Seven Christian pastors— Stanley Jacob, Vijay Kumar, Sumit Varghese, David from New Delhi, Amit from Mathura, Anita from Hathras, and Dinesh from Rajasthan — were arrested by the police on December 4 as they held a private home prayer meeting. A court sentenced them to 14 days in prison detention on the next day for carrying out a forcible program for conversion.

Other recent incidents of news arrests are described below:

  • In early December 2017, police arrested seven Christian preachers in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, North Indian state, “for allegedly carrying out a ‘ forced conversion campaign ‘ in a village.
  • In mid-December 2017, Indian police arrested a Christian priest in the state of Madhya Pradesh and grilled seminary leaders after a hardline Hindu party affiliated to the central RIGHT WING POLITICAL PARTY government “accused them of trying to convert hindus to Christianity by circulating bibles and shouting carols.”
  • Seventeen preachers, including seven women, have been arrested by the Jharkhand Police for allegedly attempting to convert local residents to Christianity and making objectionable comments against tribal worship places in Dumka. Within the Freedom of Religion Act, all seventeen were reserved.

The take of the Incumbent Government

One of the leaders of leading right wing organizations said in the national media that by 31 December 2021 the RSS would free India from Christians and Muslims. Forced‘re-conversions’ are one way it intends to do this. Last year, hundreds of Christians are pressured through coercion and stress to reconvert to Hinduism. Despite being the largest democracy in the world, with a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and belief, in India such extremism thrives. The government is now led by the Rightist political party, the right political wing, and often turns a blind eye to attacks on minorities. A national anti-conversion law is being proposed by the Indian government. Such laws, which are already in force in five of India’s states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh) and are proposed in a sixth (Maharashtra), are applied disproportionately to minorities. They may be falsely accused of forcing Hindus to change their faith as an excuse for harassing and arresting Christians and Muslims. Hindu nationalists see Hinduism as India’s true religion, so when an Indian ‘ returns’ to Hinduism, it is not seen as a’ conversion’ from another faith, but as a ‘ghar wapsi’ or’ homecoming’: they are therefore exempt from the laws of anti-conversion.

Two leaders of India’s governing party faction, one in the lower and one in the national parliament’s upper house, are planning to introduce a Private Members’ Act, each in their own house, to enact a national law against Hindu conversion that would then compel a parliamentary debate.

The Upper House MP, former journalist Tarun Vijay, represents Dehra Dun in Uttarakhand (formerly Uttaranchal) state between Himachal Pradesh and Nepal on India’s northern border. Himachal Pradesh has already introduced a Freedom of Religion Act that appears harmless in name but seeks to regulate freedom of religion change.

In an interview with The Tribune, he said the latest Indian “religion” census had revealed that, “For the first time, it has been confirmed that the number of Hindus is less than 80%. We need to take action to stop the decline. Maintaining the Hindus in the country is very necessary.

He continued: “My argument is that religion should remain a matter of personal choice. But in India, it has become a political tool in the hands of foreign powers, targeting Hindus to once again fragment our nation on communal lines. This must be opposed in the name of all communities in India and in the national interest.”

Vijay is reported to have said that his proposed bill will advocate a “non-deductible warrant to be issued against the person found to be involved in the conversion act, along with a ten-year prison sentence.”

Yogi Adityanath announced in June 2015 that those who reject yoga and surya namaskar, a Hindu greeting to the sun god in yoga, “must leave India or drown in the sea.”

The first International Yoga Day was celebrated from New Delhi to New York on June 21, 2015. In the birthplace of yoga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted a yoga session in the center of the Indian capital attended by 37,000 participants.

The day was also a Sunday, which is why many Christian groups in India voiced their resistance – not to yoga itself, but to another major national event scheduled for a Christian holy day. “Statements like this [about fleeing India and dying in the ocean] render minority communities wary of the government’s actions,” said the National Christian Council of India at the time, continuing: “We advise the government to be responsive to the different cultural and religious traditions in our state.”The two Private Members’ Bills come shortly after a sixth Indian state has started the process of introducing an “anti-conversion law”.

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Such protests have come when Hindu nationalism has been condemned by India’s Muslim population, after the lynching of a Muslim at Uttar Pradesh last week, who reportedly preserved and ate beef at home.

In the western Indian state of Maharashtra in March, a total ban on beef was enforced, outlawing the slaughter, consumption or even possession of beef.

Commentators indicated at the time that the prohibition would most seriously affect minorities. India is a secular nation where nearly half of the population eats beef, although most of the Hindus are abstaining, believing it is sacred. Many communities consume beef and it is not a totally prohibited social taboo.

“This ban is an insult to the poor and the Dalits,” said South India Church pastor Rev. Manohar Chandra Prasad (CSI).

Now, Ahsaan Chaudary, headman of the village, after the man’s lynching in Uttar Pradesh state, said: “The situation now is such that a Muslim villager cannot buy a cow and bring it home. We’re going to be attacked or even killed. It’s easy to accuse you of slaughtering the horse, “said the BBC.

Conclusion

After rigorous research and findings, we get to know that all over India, we are facing a threat to our very democracy which we claim to be the best and the largest all over the world. The conservative governments are solely after their vote banks and completely rely on as to how to mobilize the public in a way which is in their own vested interests. The anti-conversion laws are nothing but simply a stop on the practice of secularism and on the very serene concept of freedom of practising any religion, which is supposedly given to the citizens of India by the Constitution of India. The incumbent RIGHT WING POLITICAL PARTY government and the Hindu militant group that they fund, colloquially named as the RSS, are the ones who are diluting these set of freedoms which is guaranteed to us by the big book of Law and are infecting the whole of India with this plague. This plague is going to hit us really soon and the consequences are going to be incessantly brutal. There already are many a states which have gotten this bug into their system while some are still left safe, but from the rapid pace which the government seems to possess we clearly can cull out the possibility of this law being a national phenomenon. This law is nothing but a sense of alienation inflicted upon the innocent people who belong to faiths which constitute the minority. It is democracy’s foremost and paramount duty to keep everyone engaged and drive the country with no exclusionary steps and policies, whatsoever. Thus, the whole law is immoral in the bigger scheme of things and hence we must realize that this is a doom which is impending on us. We all are sleeping with a big monster beneath our beds and we must realize it’s existence and uproot it from its existence before it’s too late.

References

  1. American Center for Law and Justice, “Religious Freedom Acts”: Anti-Conversion Laws in India 2 (June 26, 2009), http://media.aclj.org/pdf/freedom_of_religion_acts.pdfarchived athttps://perma.cc/QFM3-TU24
  2. Testimony of Katrina Lantos Swett, Vice Chair USCIRF, Before the Lantos Human Rights Commission on the Plight of Religious Minorities in India 5 (Apr. 4, 2014), https://www.uscirf.gov/sites/default/files/India testimony TLHRC  April 2014 FINAL.pdfarchived at https://perma.cc/GF6E-YCBK.
  3. Religion: 2001 Census Data, Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, http://census india.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx(last visited Apr. 19, 2017), archived at https://perma.cc/ME8W-UBXD.
  4. Jennifer R. Coleman, Authoring (In)Authenticity, Regulating Religious Tolerance: The Legal and Political Implications of Anti-Conversion Legislation for Indian Secularism 23 (Paper Presented to Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism Graduate Workshop, Sept. 13, 2007–08), https://www.sas.upenn.edu /dcc/sites/ www.sas.upenn.edu.dcc/files/uploads/Coleman.pdfarchived athttps://perma.cc/9WY3-DTFN.

Endnotes

[1] Library of Congress, State Anti-Conversion Laws in India (Last visited on: October, 29 2019) https://www.loc.gov/law/help/anti-conversion-laws/india.php

[2] Religion: 2001 Census Data, Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, http://census india.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx (last visited Oct. 29, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/ME8W-UBXD.

[3]  Hindu Population Reducing in India as ‘They Never Convert People’: Kiren Rijiju, Deccan Chronicle (Feb. 13, 2017; updated Feb. 14, 2017), http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/130217/hindu-population-reducing-in-india-as-they-never-convert-people-kiren-rijiju.htmlarchived at https://perma.cc/8BUG-KQ4Nsee also C-1 Population by Religious Community, Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/C-01.html (last visited Oct. 29, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/Q7R7-DRRB.

[4] James Andrew Huff, Note, Religious Freedom in India and Analysis of the Constitutionality of Anti-Conversion Laws, 10(2) Rutgers J. L. & Religion 1, 4 (2009), http://www.lawandreligion.com/sites/lawandreligion.com/files/ A10S-6Huff.pdfarchived at https://perma.cc/7Z7Y-9U8Q.

[5] Indian Law Institute, A Study of Compatibility of Anti-Conversion Laws with Right to Freedom of Religion in India 31 (2007) (submitted to India’s National Commission for Minorities).

[6] BJP Lawmakers Plan Anti-conversion Bills in LS, RS, International Business Times (Nov. 9, 2015), http://www.ibtimes.co.in/bjp-members-introduce-bill-criminalising-religion-conversion-653925archived at https://perma.cc/W4AD-QSVSIndian Parliament Will Consider Criminalizing Religious Liberty, Organization for Minorities of India (Nov. 5, 2015), http://www.minoritiesofindia.org/indian-parliament-will-consider-criminalizing-religious-liberty/archived at https://perma.cc/U7SM-567E.

[7]  Rajshree Chandra, Converting Religion, Converting Law: Rajshree Chandra, Kafila (Dec. 24, 2014), https://kafila.online/2014/12/24/converting-religion-converting-law-rajshree-chandra/archived at https://perma.cc/T6D2-HFAJ


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