Menace of Forced conversions

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    In News

    • The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) recently filed an affidavit regarding the menace of forced conversion.

    More about the news

    • Union government to take cognisance of Conversions:
      • Union government told the Supreme Court that it is “cognisant of the menace” of forced conversions and will take “appropriate steps” to deal with it.
    • In conflict with the right to freedom to religion:
      • The government said that “undoubtedly” the right to freedom to religion, and “more importantly the right to conscience of all citizens of the country, is an extremely cherished and valuable rights which ought to be protected by the Executive and the Legislature”.
      • The MHA also added that “the right to freedom of religion does not include a fundamental right to convert people to a particular religion”.
      • It also stated that the “said right certainly does not include the right to convert an individual through fraud, deception, coercion, allurement or other such means”.
    • Laws to curb forced conversions:
      • MHA said some states already had laws to curb forced conversions and added that these were also upheld by the top court.
      • The government submitted that “such enactments are necessary for protecting cherished the rights of vulnerable sections of the society, including women and economically and socially backward classes”.

    Significant Supreme Court judgments on conversions

    • Right to spread & not convert:
      • The SC in its previous jugment has held that “the word propagate does not envisage the right to convert a person, rather (it) is in the nature of the positive right to spread one’s religion by exposition of its tenets”. 
      • The court further held that fraudulent or induced conversion impinges upon the right to freedom of conscience of an individual apart from hampering public order and therefore the state was well within its power to regulate/restrict the same.
    • Sarla Mudgal case (1995):
      • In this, the Supreme Court held that conversion to Islam was not valid if done only in order to be able to practise polygamy. 
    • Chandra Sekaran case (1963):
      • In this case, the court observed that a person does not cease to be a Hindu merely because he declares that he has no faith in his religion or stops practising his religion.

    Right to Freedom of religion in India

    • The Indian Constitution allows individuals the freedom to live by their religious beliefs and practices as they interpret these. 
    • In keeping with this idea of religious freedom for all, India also adopted a strategy of separating the power of religion and the power of the State
    • Constitutional Provisions:
      • Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion
      • Article 26:  Freedom to manage religious affairs
      • Article 27: Freedom to pay taxes for promotion of any particular religion
      • Article 28: Freedom to attend religious instruction or worship in certain educational institutions

    More about the Legislation against Forced Conversions in India

    • About the regulation of Conversions in India:
      • In 1954, Parliament took up for consideration the Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill
      • Six years later, another law, the Backward Communities (Religious Protection) Bill, 1960, was proposed to stop conversion. 
        • Both were dropped for want of support. 
    • State Laws:
      • Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh passed anti-conversion laws in 1967, 1968 and 1978 respectively. 
        • Later, similar laws were passed by the state assemblies of Chhattisgarh (2000), Tamil Nadu (2002), Gujarat (2003), Himachal Pradesh (2006), and Rajasthan (2008). 
        • The laws were intended to stop conversions by force or inducement, or fraudulently. 
        • Permissions:
          • Some of the laws made it mandatory to seek prior permission from local authorities before conversion.
        • Penalties:
          • Penalties for breaching the laws can range from monetary fines to imprisonment, with punishments ranging from one to three years of imprisonment and fines from 5,000 to ?50,000. 
          • Some of the laws provide for stiffer penalties if women, children, or members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) are being converted. 
      • Offences that the forced conversions attract
        • These laws made forced conversion a cognisable offence under sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code, which pertain to malicious and deliberate intention to hurt the religious sentiments of others. 

    Way Ahead

    • Errors leading to misuse:
      • While there is reason to suspect that some conversions are merely a sham, the existing anti-conversion laws leave room for error which might result in oppression and misuse by authorities.
    • Motivated by religious dogma:
      • These legislations are largely motivated by religious dogma and at present, they mostly affect religious minorities negatively. 
      • Even though their proposed purpose is to protect the minorities it has a detrimental impact on our society. 
    • Indian secularism:
      • Indian secularism is a unique concept in a way that it has been established by different multicultural groups forever changing its focus to being incredibly flexible and durable. 
      • However, the cultural fragmentation that the existence and application of these laws create is a persisting issue.

    Source: IE