❏ The Supreme Court on Friday gave States three more weeks to ﬁle counteraﬃdavits to petitions challenging their antireligious conversion laws
❏ Anti-conversion laws enacted in various states are under scrutiny for their ambiguity and the lack of valid justiﬁcations for their existence.
❏ Vague terms used in them pose signiﬁcant challenges to the fundamental rights provided by the Indian constitution.
❏ In this backdrop, the Supreme Court has recently agreed to examine the constitutional validity of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand anti-conversion laws. However, it refused to stay these controversial legislations.
Which are the states that currently have anti-conversion laws?
● Over the years, the state governments implemented “Freedom of Religion” legislation to restrict religious conversions through force, fraud or allurement.
● Freedom of Religion laws are currently enforced in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand.
● Majority of these laws ban religious conversion by force or allurement. Which states recently passed anti-conversion laws?
● Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh passed anti-conversion laws that outlaw religious conversion solely for the purpose of marriage.
● Common feature of these laws is the declaration of such marriages as “null and void” and penalising conversions done without prior approval of the state.
What is the Judiciary’s take on anti-conversion laws?
✓ September 2020 Allahabad High Court judgement was the basis for the newly enacted UP ordinance. The court held that conversion only for the sake of marriage is invalid.
✓ The Uttarakhand HC, in November 2017, held that conversions for the sake of marriage a sham and urged the government to enact the law against such conversions. This became the
Basis for the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018 – the ﬁrst anti-conversion law that
lists ‘marriage’ alongside other fraudulent means for conversion.
✓ The Rajasthan HC, in December 2017, provided guidelines that would be enforced until the state enacted a law to curb “forcible conversions”. It stated that there is a dire need to protect the constitutional right to freedom of religion. The guidelines mandated advance notice of every
conversion be provided to the district magistrate.
● In the Stainislaus judgement, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the
Madhya Pradesh and Odisha anti-conversion laws.
● In this judgement, the apex court stated that these laws were meant to avoid disturbances to
public order by prohibiting religious conversions “in a manner reprehensible to the conscience of the community” and that “forcible conversion could create public disorder”.
● It held that the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion as laid down in Article 25
of the constitution does not include the right to convert.
● Forced conversion goes against Article 25 as it impinges on the “freedom of conscience”.
● The top court also held that conversion is not a fundamental right and
must be regulated by the state.
● Matters of dress and of food, of ideas and ideologies, of love and partnership, are within the central aspects of identity.
● Neither state nor the law can dictate a choice of partners or limit the free ability of every person decide on these matters.
● The choice of a life partner, whether by marriage or outside, is part of an individual’s
“personhood and identity”.
K.S. Puttuswamy case:
● Any interference by the state in an adult’s right to love and marry has a “chilling eﬀect” on freedoms.
Lata Singh Case:
● Relatives disgruntled by the inter-religious marriage of the inter-faith couple could opt to “cut oﬀ social relations” rather than resort to
violence or harassment.
What are the arguments in favor of anti-conversion laws?
A committee led by Chief Justice of Nagpur Niyogi found that religious conversions were not “completely voluntary”.
● Forcible conversion of religion would involve several crimes, including wrongful conﬁnement (Section 342 IPC), intimidation (Section 506 IPC), kidnapping (Section 359-369 IPC), assault (Section 352 IPC), the threat of divine displeasure (Section 508 IPC) etc.
● Anti-conversion laws safeguard human rights by preventing fake, fraudulent or deceitful premises of marriage.
What are the arguments against recently passed anti-conversion laws?
● These laws breach the right to privacy, choice and marital freedom.
● The mandatory prior declaration of the intention to convert violates the right to keep one’s faith secret.
● Increased possibility of honour killings. More than 350 such killings have taken place over the last 6 years. Such cases largely remain under-reported and there are no legal provisions to prevent the same.
● Increase the potential of social discord and communal divides.
● There are already provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure that protects against coercive conversions.
● There are no conclusive proofs regarding forceful conversions:
a. The Centre informed the Lok Sabha that there is no case of love jihad reported by any of the central agencies.
b. Investigations by the National Investigation Agency and the Karnataka Criminal Investigation Department also found no evidence of such conspiracy.
c. The National Commission for Women maintains no data on love jihad.
What can be the way ahead?
● Marriage is a personal aﬀair. The right to marry is an individual’s choice or to choose one’s partner is an aspect of constitutional liberty.
● The fundamental right to privacy protects one’s ability to make choices and decisions that are intimate.
● This right was upheld by the SC in the past and any law going against it must be repealed.
● Anti-conversion laws must be backed by a concrete study on the ground-realty of such forced conversions.
● These laws must be devoid of ambiguity so that they are not exploited.
● At the same time, it is the duty of the state to enable and facilitate inter-faith/inter-caste marriages. Allahabad HC ruling on SMA is a
step in the right direction.
Fact important for PRELIMS:
● The Indian Army is set to host the second edition of the Africa India ﬁeld training exercise (AFINDEX23) from March 21 to 30, and African Chiefs Conclave on March 28 in Pune.
✓ The objective is to build upon the initiatives taken to strengthen India-Africa relations, with a focus on enhancing peace and creating opportunities to exchange ideas.
Fact important for PRELIMS:
❏ Sokra Misawa festival: ASSAM
❏ Hornbill festival: NAGALAND
❏ Chapchar Kut festival: MIZORAM
❏ Wangala festival- MEGHALAYA
❏ Sangai festival: MANIPUR
❏ Losoong festival: SIKKIM
❏ Kharchi Puja: TRIPURA