What are the existing laws on religious conversions?

Source: The post is based on an article “What are the existing laws on religious conversions?” published in The Hindu on 12th December 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Governance

Relevance: anti-conversion laws and problems associated.

News: Charity works are being misused by some communities for religious conversion which is a concern for India.

Which states have laws for conversion?

Odisha became the first state after independence in 1967 to enact a law to stop forceful/fraudulent religious conversion.

Further, in 1968 Madya Pradesh came up with Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam Act. It required the person who converted others to inform the concerned District Magistrate.

Presently, many states have passed anti-conversion laws restricting religious conversions through marriage.

For instance, the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, says that a marriage would be declared “null and void” if the marriage is solely for that purpose.

Madhya Pradesh also passed a new law in 2021— the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act (MPFRA). It makes mandatory for both the individual and the priest facilitating the conversion to inform the District Magistrate prior to the conversion.

These laws also provide for greater punishment for forceful conversion of persons from Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribe communities, minors and women.

Currently, more than 10 states have enacted anti-conversions laws. Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka have passed the laws.

What has been the judicial stand on these laws?

Many of these laws have been challenged in the court and have been termed as unconstitutional.  For example, the Himachal Pradesh High Court in 2012 struck down certain provisions of the State’s 2006 law restricting conversions.

The Court said that the individual converting their faith also enjoyed their right to privacy and the provision to give a month’s prior notice to the District Magistrate violated this right.

Further, the Gujarat High Court stayed some provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 in 2021 and even this year, the Madhya Pradesh High Court has held certain provisions of the MPFRA unconstitutional.

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