Freedom of Religion vs. Laws Against Religions Conversions in India (Important) (Download PDF)

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Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25 - 28 of the Constitution. However Indian states have passed laws against religions conversions. Jharkhand, become seventh state to have anti-conversion law- other six states being Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

Jharkhand Latest to Come up with Religious Freedom Bill, 2017

Religions Freedom in India

  • Indian Constitution has the word “secular” , implying that the State will not discriminate, patronize, or meddle in the profession of any religion.
  • Constitution shields religions or groups by adding religious rights as fundamental rights.
  • Article 25 says “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health.”
  • Article 26 says “all denominations can manage their own affairs in matters of religion. All these rights are subject to be regulated by the State.”

Background on Religions Conversions in India

  • Anti-conversion laws in India must be viewed under Article 25, which is made a basic human right.
  • Anti-conversion laws are thus promulgated by state under the premise that forced or induced conversions happen and need to be prevented.
  • It is assumed that forced or induced conversions happen are by force and not a free choice.
  • Conversion laws however run the risk of abuse by communal forces to protect the dominant political party in the state or country.

History of Conversion Bills

  • Several Indian states passed Freedom of Religion Bills to prevent people from converting to Christianity.
  • Orissa was the first state to bring such law named as ′ Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967′.
  • Madhya Pradesh followed in 1968
  • Arunachal Pradesh in 1978
  • The Supreme Court supported the Orissa and Madhya Pradesh laws- “What is freedom for one is freedom for the other in equal measure and there can, therefore, be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one՚s own religion” .
  • The Supreme Court move was criticized for ignoring Article 25 and not differentiating between forced conversion and conversion by persuasion.
  • Chhattisgarh passed the anti-conversion law in 2000
  • Gujarat passed anti conversion law in 2003
  • In July 2006, Madhya Pradesh government passed legislation which requires conversion to be reported to government with one month՚s notice
  • In August 2006, the Chhattisgarh State Assembly passed similar legislation requiring 30 days՚ notice and permission from the district magistrate.
  • In February 2007, Himachal Pradesh adopted legislation banning illegal religious conversions.
  • Followed by Rajasthan in 2008

The one-month notice required for conversion hit some sour nerves with many believing that it restricts freedom of religion.

Jharkhand Religious Freedom Bill, 2017

Jharkhand Governor Draupadi Murmu approved Jharkhand Religious Freedom Bill, 2017. The state government can now issue notification on the Religious Freedom Bill making it an Act.

  • Bill brings stringent anti-conversion law against forceful or allurement induced religious conversion- making it non-bailable criminal offence.
  • Defines allurement for religious conversion
  • Includes religious conversion based on cash or economic benefits under allurement.
  • Section 3 prohibits forceful conversion- violation resulting in punishment upto 3 years imprisonment or ₹ 50000 penalty or both.
  • For religious conversion crime involving minor, woman or person from SC/ST community prison term is up to 4 years and a penalty of ₹ 1 lakh.

Reasons for Jharkhand Religious Freedom Bill, 2017

Prevent rampant religious conversions, which are predominantly in tribal and backward communities lured for money or other benefits.

- Published/Last Modified on: October 16, 2017


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