From the date of its independence, India has seen many governments introducing anti-conversion bills in the Parliament over the years. Though none of them were enacted, the changing governments couldn’t stop from bringing in more such bills as the time passed by. First such bill called the Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill was introduced in 1954, which sought to enforce “licensing of missionaries and the registration of conversion with government officials”. This bill could not be enacted as it failed to gather majority support in the Lok Sabha. The Freedom of Religion Bill was introduced in Parliament in 1979. It sought “official curbs on inter-religious conversion.” But this bill was also not passed by the Parliament due to a lack of majority.
In 2015, the Union law ministry had given the opinion that a law against forced and fraudulent conversions could not be created at a national level, since law-and-order is a State subject under the Constitution. However, state governments can enact such laws. Over the years, some states have come up with their own anti-conversion laws to restrict any unlawful or forced conversions in their respective states. “Freedom of Religion laws” are currently in force in eight states:
- Odisha (1967),
- Madhya Pradesh (1968),
- Arunachal Pradesh (1978),
- Chhattisgarh (2000 and 2006),
- Gujarat (2003),
- Himachal Pradesh (2006 and 2019),
- Jharkhand (2017), and
- Uttarakhand (2018).
Recently in the year 2020, the topic of anti-conversion law came into discussion once again as the government of Uttar Pradesh passed an ordinance to curb the conversion activities in the state as it was seen that there were rising cases of forced or fraudulent conversions taking place in the state and hence, the Uttar Pradesh Law Commission recommended to enact a law to regulate all religious conversions. The ordinance is called The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020. This law makes conversion an offence that is non-bailable and punishable with up to 10 years of imprisonment.
The difference in Anti-conversion laws of different states-
A research shows that there are certain common characteristics found in all the various state laws. While all states have banned conversions by force, fraud or allurement and inducement of money, only the Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh laws place a ban on conversion through marriage.
The Arunachal Pradesh’s law is considered as the most lenient legislation on anti-conversion in the need for notice of conversion. Under this law, only the priest who has done the conversion has to give the notice of conversion to the District Magistrate and the person who has converted has to make no declaration. While in other states, an advance notice by the priest who will be carrying out the process of conversion as well as the person being converted is required. Uttar Pradesh has the strictest provisions, as the person who wishes to convert to another religion has to give a 60-day notice to the district authorities.
As the population is rising the problems of people are rising at the same pace. One such problem being face by the citizens of India is forced conversion to other religions. Though many state governments have made laws in their respective states to curb such forced conversions, the problem needs a bigger solution and only a national-level law can come to the rescue. Its high time that the union government makes a strict law with rigorous punishment that protects the citizens from any forced or fraudulent conversion.
Written by Yaminee Verma @LEXCLIQ