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Anti-Conversion Laws In India

2022 JAN 28

Mains   > Society   >   Secularism   >   Secularism


  • Supreme Court has recently agreed to examine the constitutional validity of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand anti-conversion laws – laws that aims to restrict religious conversions.
  • Anti-conversion laws enacted in various states are under scrutiny for their ambiguity and the lack of valid justifications for their existence.


  • Princely states headed by Hindu royal families were the first to introduce laws restricting religious conversions during the British colonial era, especially during the latter half of the 1930s and 1940s.
  • These laws were enacted to preserve Hindu religious identity amid British's domination.
  • There were over dozens of Princely states with such laws, including Kota, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Raigarh, Patna, Udaipur etc.
  • Independent India also witnessed the introduction of anti-conversion bills in the Parliament, though none was implemented due to the lack of political support.
  • In 2015, the Union Law Ministry stated that a law against forced and fraudulent conversions cannot be created at the national level since law and order is a state subject under Constitution. the Indian
  • This means that the state governments have the power to enact such laws.


  • Over the years, 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.
  • Recently Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh passed anti-conversion laws that outlaw religious conversion solely for the purpose of marriage.


  • Fear of change in demography:
    • Anti-conversion laws are considered a remedial measure to the problem of conversion which is considered as a way to bring demographic change.
  • Not blanket ban on prohibition:
    • The laws are not brought to stop the conversion but are intended to prohibit conversions that are effectuated by force, inducement, or fraud.
    • Supporter of these laws argue that since present instances of such conversions are high, these laws are designed to criminalise such activities.
  • Strengthens religious freedom:
    • Since they provide stringent provisions for forced or induced conversion, they are considered as necessary safeguards for the protection of religious freedom, a right guaranteed both constitutionally and in international human rights instruments.
    • The freedom given in the Article 25 of Indian Constitution is not absolute but subject to the restrictions as public order, health, morality, and other fundamental rights. o India’s legal dispensation only recognizes the conversion which is not done with inducement or threat.
  • Constituent assembly debates:
    • During Constituent Assembly debates, Sardar Patel had expressed concern about forceful conversion which later became as the moral base of anti-conversion laws in India.
    • Another member Ananthasayanam Ayyangar had proposed that conversion should be banned and conversion only on oath before a judge should be permitted.



  • Burden of proof:
    • The burden of proof that the conversion was ‘lawful’ lies on the person who has ‘caused’ the conversion and where such conversion has been facilitated by any person, on such other person.
    • Thus, laws reportedly focus more on prosecuting the ‘convertor’ and opinion of the person who has converted is considered less.
  • Lack of equitable treatment:
    • It is argued that the anti-conversion laws both by their design and implementation infringe, upon the individual’s right to convert and may favour one religion over other.
  • Creates an atmosphere of fear:
    • Reports suggest that though there are very rare instances of prosecution or arrest under anti-conversion laws, but they create the atmosphere of fear amongst the couples willing to do inter-faith marriages.
    • There have been reports regarding incidents of arrest of some minority leaders under these anti-conversion laws.
  • Vague nature and wide scope:
    • The terms used in such laws like force, fraud, allurement etc. are loosely defined, leaving wide scope for misuse.
    • The misreading of laws could result in instances of physical attacks following accusations of wrongful conversions. They are also believed to deepen communal fault lines.
  • Against freedom of religion:
    • Religion or spirituality is the most integral part of human nature and thus any undue ban on it can be a gross violation of human rights.
    • Several important international documents recognize the concept of freedom of religion like Article 18 of the Universal declaration of human rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
    • They are also antithetical to the freedoms granted by provisions in the Special Marriage Act under which persons belonging to two different religions get married.
    • They also raise concerns about the privacy of individuals who wish to adopt other religions and the liberty of an individual to choose a partner from another religion.


  • Stainislaus case, 1977:
    • Supreme Court examined the earliest anti-conversion statutes in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.
    • SC upheld the constitutionality of both the Acts on the ground that these efforts to restrain the conversion are for securing freedom of conscience and public order.
    • Freedom to propagate one’s religion, as stipulated under Article 25 (1), did not grant a fundamental right to convert another person.
    • The bench ruled that a purposive conversion would impinge on the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all citizens.
    • It also held that the Anti- Conversion Acts fall within the purview of Entry I of List II of the Seventh Schedule as they are meant to avoid disturbances to the public order by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another in a manner reprehensible to the conscience of the community.
  • Sarla Mudgal case 1995:
    • Supreme Court held that conversion to Islam was not valid if done only in order to be able to practise polygamy.
    • This position was reaffirmed by the apex court’s judgment in the Lilly Thomas case in 2000, which clarified that prosecution for bigamy was not a violation of the freedom of religion under Article 25.
  • Lata Singh v/s State of UP:
    • The apex court highlighted the need for stringent punishment over acts of violence or threats in cases of inter-caste and inter-faith marriages.
  • M Chandra v/s M Thangamuthu, 2010
    • In this case Supreme Court laid down the test to prove conversion
    • First, there has to be a conversion and second, acceptance into the community to which the person converted.
    • It also stated that the need of a conversion cannot be altogether done away with.
  • KS Puttuswamy case, 2017:
    • Court held that Indians have a constitutionally protected fundamental right to privacy that is an intrinsic part of life and liberty under Article 21.
    • Court held that right to privacy encompasses the right to make personal and intimate choices. Court also opined that ‘The sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation’ is well within the constitutionally protected right to privacy.
  • Hadiya case, 2018:
    • While Puttaswamy inferred the aspect of marriage within the fundamental right to privacy, Hadiya case (2018) fleshes out a more direct and concrete right to marry a person of one’s own choice.
    • In this case, Supreme Court held that “The right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution”.
    • Court held that “The choice of a partner whether within or outside marriage lies within the exclusive domain of each individual. Intimacies of marriage lie within a core zone of privacy, which is inviolable. The absolute right of an individual to choose a life partner is not in the least affected by matters of faith. The Constitution guarantees to each individual the right freely to practise, profess and propagate religion. Choices of faith and belief as indeed choices in matters of marriage lie within an area where individual autonomy is supreme. Neither the state nor the law can dictate a choice of partners or limit the free ability of every person to decide on these matters. They form the essence of personal liberty under the Constitution”


Q. “State legislations that restrict religious conversion not only threatens secular credentials of the Constitution, but also antithetical citizens right to privacy”. Critically examine this statement in the context of recent legislations enacted by various states.