This article is written by Karthi VS, student at SRM University
According to Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, all persons can freely profess, practice and propagate religion on his/her wish. So, India is a secular country that does not discriminate its citizen based on their faith, and the minorities get a particular preference. This free-to-practice-any-religion legislation has resulted in spiritual conversions, and there is a substantial increase in the conversion rate in India. People fall into this pothole due to various reasons, and two of the main reason is Poverty and Religious Persecution. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (WCC), approximately 2.7 million converting to Christianity annually from another religion, World Christian Encyclopedia also cited that Christianity rank at first place in net gains through religious conversion. On the other hand, demographer Conrad Hackett of the Pew Research Center stated that the World Christian Encyclopedia gives a higher estimate in the percentage of Christians when compared to different cross-national data sets. While according to “The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion”, approximately 15.5 million converting to Christianity annually from another religion.
India is a nation that is home to a diverse religion and their beliefs and practices. The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of four major world religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. According to reports of 2011 Census Data, 79.80% of the population of India is Hindu, 14.23% Muslim, 2.30% Christian, 1.72% Sikh, 0.70% Buddhist, and 0.37% Jainism. India at the later ages only had Hinduism as it’s religion, the Mughal rule in India was the primary reason for the Muslim population of the country. Hinduism and Islam were prevailing in India, while the Colonial rule in India resulted in Christianity. Christianity was a recent religion to India compared to other religions. Buddhism was in existence, but it got expanded because of the DALIT-BUDDHISM Movement started by Dr.B.R.Ambedhkar, this movement made many people convert to Buddhism as they were continuously experiencing discrimination and ill-treatment as they belonged to lower community(caste) in their religion. Then the country saw a rapid conversion of its people to Christianity from their faith because of the British Rule. The Colonial Masters had a clear plan of converting people to their community to have a peaceful trade and shipments, and this is why people living near the seas and ports mostly belong to Christianity, the primary purpose for this is that the ports need more labours and people who don’t get offended by their activities, so the people there were paid and pulled into their religion. These are reasons on how conversions gradually began in India. Then happened the Partition which caused a serious fight against the Hindu-Muslim people from INDIA and PAKISTAN.
Because of a greater number of religions, the conversion was a common practice among the beliefs and the state government brought state legislation against the conversions.
EVOLUTION OF ANTI-CONVERSION
Anti-conversion laws have a long history in India. Many states brought their state laws against the conversion in the early 1930s. In the 1980s some states enforced anti-conversion laws firstly against Muslims. Since the late 1990s, the governments also started to enact anti-conversion laws against Christianity.
Anti-conversion laws have arisen from a long history of religious activity in India as the state consists of diverse religion and practices. These laws were first enacted during the colonial period, although the government did not familiarise those laws among people of the country. However, Hindu princely states passed them when British were spreading Christianity and when they opened more number of missionaries.
Many states, during the colonial period, enacted such laws to stop people from changing their religion from Hindu to some other religion like Christianity. The attempt was to increase the population of Hindu followers in India and also to protect their faith in threat of rapid conversions which were happening at that time. The current Christian community in India is pure because of the Colonial invasion into the state, and most of them are Converted-Christians who have converted from other religions mostly Hinduism, during the British Rule.
WHAT’S THE NEED TO STUDY THIS TOPIC
Religions are no more spiritualistic; they indulge in business and political activities even better than business people and politicians, especially in India. Castes and religion play a significant role in Indian democracy. So, these Religions tend to involve in conversions, in a motive to expand their community and rise in their numbers to ensure the stability in the number of their people towards the population of the country.
The Constitution of the country also does not stress anything much on Conversions as it states that the state is Secular which open the gates for all religion and even in Article 25 it allows its citizens to practise, profess and propagate any religion they want.
These Conversion-friendly factors create opportunities for religions, whose desire is to expand their community by converting people to their faith and maximise their religious population. So, the anti-conversion law becomes mandatory to defend the atrocious conversion activities made by religion.
India’s Freedom of Religion Acts or “anti-conversion laws” are state-level statutes enacted to regulate religious conversions that are not purely voluntary. Such laws began to be introduced in the 1960s after the failed attempts to pass an anti-conversion law at the Union level and were first enacted by Orissa and Madhya Pradesh states. At present, such rules are in effect in eight out of twenty-nine states: Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. The law in Arunachal Pradesh has not been implemented due to a lack of subsidiary rules. The State of Rajasthan has passed an anti-conversion bill, but it has yet to be signed by the President of India. Several other states, including Manipur, are reportedly “considering similar laws.”
PERSPECTIVE OF GREAT PERSONALITIES
Mr Rajiv Malhotra (in a meeting) answered a person for the question “why it is wrong when the people convert to other religion for money and economic condition because the people wouldn’t have to change their religion, had the government not keep them on the line of poverty. So, can we blame the government for converting to people into other religions?”
For that, he answered that there should be a proper justification for conversion, using poverty as a key to convert people is immoral and unfair. Christianity has involved in transformation over the years but hasn’t shown any results; they neither eradicated poverty nor solved the problems of people which they have promised to do so. They should start showing results for the conversions they have made; people should have some ministerial accountability. Unfair exploitation should be stopped, and transformation should be made using fair means.
In the same meeting, Dr. Subramanian Swamy said that “The conversion happening in India is not done by the Indian Christians. Conversion activities at the wholesale level are carried out on the basis of foreign money and by foreign missionaries.”
Tehmina Arora, a Human rights lawyer, has stated that currently anti-conversion laws are being enforced in 7 different provinces across India. Anti-Conversion Laws fail to protect the dignity of each person and violate basic human International Human Rights norms. One group under threat are Dalits, which comprises 70% of the church community in India. She says that “we want to stop violence and hostility against the Dalits and the negation of their rights.
RECENT AMENDMENTS BASED ON ANTI-CONVERSION
Over 13 years on, the present State Government under Jai Ram Thakur has revised or amended the law with the amount of punishment raised from three to seven years. It has enlarged the range of the law to deal with what Vishva Hindu Parishad calls “love jihad”. Love jihad means the fight for love. At the end of August, the Bill was passed in agreement with the Congress backing it in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill was passed in 2019. There were eight new provisions added in the Bill. It covered the marriage done with the sole purpose of conversion. “Any marriage done for the sole purpose of conversion by a person of one religion with a person of another religion either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the other person before or after marriage may be declared null and void by the family court,” reads Section 5 of the Act. Meanwhile, as per Section 3, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert by either directly or indirectly, any other person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement or any fraudulent means or by marriage, nor shall any person abet or conspire such conversion.”
A detailed analysis of these laws reveals that, far from promoting or protecting religious freedom, they have served to undermine the religious freedom guaranteed under the Indian Constitution and international law and the covenants to which India is a signatory.
Primarily motivated by a religious ideology, the anti-conversions laws fail to achieve the very purpose for which they have been enacted. On the contrary, they provide an opportunity for divisive forces to target the constitutionally protected rights of minority groups and pose a severe threat to the free practice and propagation of religious beliefs.
Furthermore, the laws fail to account for the agency of converts and treat them instead as passive recipients of external pressures from ‘predatory’ convertors. They tend to treat all religious conversions as suspect and liable to investigation and prosecution.
The introduction of similar provisions in the other South Asian legal systems is a disturbing trend. It requires the attention of the international community, as they stand in direct contrast to the rights and liberties guaranteed under international law.
SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Strict punishments have to be enacted for forceful conversions and religious persecutions. In my view, religion is also an identity for any person after his/her nationality. At the same time, I welcome people who want to explore every religion and want to know their practices and tradition.
I have construed my view, but we are all humans, and we always differ in opinion. So once a person decides to convert to other religion, it is his/her choice to do so, he/she is free to do as per their wish, and the state also permits them. But when people are targeted and converted, there arises the problem. Using one’s weakness and exploiting them is an immoral act which is used by religions.
The government should make explicit guidelines on conversion, the state should record it, and the reason has to be noted down. The condition cannot interfere in the decision made by the individual but should record the explanation given by the individual for his conversion. This is to check whether the individual has done on his/her wish, or it is a decision made by coercion.