Religious conversions in India: Wikis

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Post-independence state laws

Religious conversions have been a hot issue in India since the invasion of the Islamic rulers. However, in the Colonial period as well there were instances of it like the Raigarh State Conversion Act of 1936 and the Udaipur State Conversion Act of 1946. After the Independence, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat have enacted laws to put a check on religious conversions. The Bharatiya Janata Party has it in its agenda to amend the Constitution and criminalize forced religious conversions;[1] that are often practiced by many Christian missionaries preaching in India.[2][3]

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The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 1968

The Niyogi Committee (1954) set up by the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh alleged that Christian missionaries were creating ‘a state within a state’ and observed that the ‘philanthropic activities of Christian missionaries are a mask for proselytization.’[4] Missionary work was also opposed by the Sangh Parivar. The Madhya Pradesh Assembly rejected the Freedom of Religion Bills of 1958 and 1963. However, this bill was passed in 1968 as ‘The Freedom of Religion Act.’ The Madhya Pradesh ‘Freedom of Religion Act’ requires that a convert produce a legal affidavit that s/he was not under any pressure, force, or allurement to convert but was converting by own will and desire after evaluating the religion properly. Also according to this law, anyone who writes or speaks or sings of ‘divine displeasure’ (with an intention to induce forced conversion by means of threat) can be imprisoned for a period of up to two years and fined up to five thousand rupees.

The Orissa Freedom of Religions Act of 1968

The Orissa Freedom of Religions Act of 1968 states that “no person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.” Contravention of this law was punishable with imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to Rs 5,000. In the case of a minor, a woman, or a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Tribe, the punishment was up to two years of imprisonment and the limit of the fine raised to Rs. 10,000. The Orissa High Court, however, struck down the Act as ultra vires of the Constitution on the ground that the state legislature did not have the right to legislate matters of religion. The same year, the state of Madhya Pradesh also enacted the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act as seen above. However, the Madhya Pradesh High Court, in contrary to the Orissa High Court, negated the challenge of some Christians that the Act violated their fundamental right as provided under Article 25 of the Constitution. The decisions of both the Courts were challenged before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court and reversed the decision of the Orissa High Court.[5]

The Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 1978

The Arunachal Pradesh government enacted this Act to protect the tribals of Arunachal Pradesh from forced conversions of any kind. It reads:

3) Prohibition of forcible conversion. No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise any person from indigenous faith by use of force or by inducement or any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion. 4) Punishment of Contravention of the Provision of Section. Any person contravening the provisions contained in Section 2, shall without prejudice to any civil liability, be punishable with imprisonment to the extent of two (2) years and fine up to ten thousand (10, 000) rupees. (i) whoever converts any person from his indigenous faith to any other faith or religion either by himself performing the ceremony for such conversion as a religious priest or by taking part directly in such ceremony shall, within such period after the ceremony as may be prescribed, send an intimation to the Deputy Commissioner of the District to which the person converted belongs, of the fact of such conversion in such forms as may be prescribed.[6]

The Tamil Nadu Anti-Conversion Act of 2002

The Tamil Nadu Anti-Conversion Act of 2002 stated that ‘No person shall convert or attempt to convert directly or otherwise any person from one religion to another either by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means.’ However, soon after the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition in the 2004 elections, the Tamil Nadu Government led by Jayalalitha repealed the law in June.[7]

The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act

The Gujarat Assembly passed the Freedom of Religion Act in March 2003. It was called the Dharam Swatantrata Vidheya (Freedom of Religion Act). Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the State, called the Act as one of the main ‘achievements’ of his government’s one year in office. The law prohibited conversion by force or inducement. [7]

See also

Secularism in India

References

  1. ^ http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/aug/28bjp.htm
  2. ^ http://www.webnewswire.com/node/450182
  3. ^ http://www.christianaggression.org/item_display.php?id=1141970933&type=articles
  4. ^ Subhash Agarwal, ‘Law, Order, & Religious Conversions’, The Financial Express, Sept. 25, 2003.
  5. ^ Domenic Marbaniang Secularism in India, Internet Archive, 2009
  6. ^ Ebe Sunder Raj, The Confusion Called Conversion, pp. 141-2.
  7. ^ a b Domenic Marbaniang, Secularism in India: Historical Outline, http://www.archive.org/details/SecularismInIndia

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