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India: Can anyone convert to another religion?

Monday 12 April 2021, by siawi3


Did the SC passingly affirm right to choose one’s religion?

The apex court made oral remarks while dismissing a petition seeking directions for curbing alleged mass conversions of SC/ST community through intimidation, threats and gifts


10 Apr 2021


The Supreme Court made an oral observation while dealing with a plea against black magic, superstition and mass religious conversions, “I don’t see a reason as to why any person above 18 cannot choose his religion. There is a reason why the word”propagate“is there in the Constitution”.

The remark was made by Justice RF Nariman while dismissing a petition filed by Ashwini Upadhyaya seeking to control black magic, superstition and alleged mass religious conversion of people hailing from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes using intimidation, threats and gifts.

The bench of Justices RF Nariman, BR Gavi and Hrishikesh Roy told senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayana, appearing for petitioner advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, “What kind of writ petition is this under Article 32. We will impose a heavy cost on you. You argue on your own risk,” reported Indian Express.

The Court has, in effect, stated that adults (above 18) are free to choose the religion of their choice since the Constitution under Article 25 inter alia states that “Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”.

When the counsel said that he would like to withdraw the petition and instead make a representation to the government and the law commission, the bench refused to grant him permission to approach the law commission!

The plea had stated, “Religious conversion by ‘carrot and stick’ and by ‘hook or crook’ not only offends Articles 14, 21, 25, but is also against the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Petitioner states with dismay that the Centre and States have failed to control the menace of black magic, superstition and deceitful religious conversion, though it is their duty under Article 51A”. According to the petitioner, the victims of such forceful conversions were often socially and economically under privileged people, particularly belonging to the SC-ST, reported LiveLaw.

The order may be read here.



MP govt notifies Freedom of Religion Act, 2021

The contentious anti-conversion law that has been challenged before the apex court, has now become operative in the state


01 Apr 2021

MP govt notifies Freedom of Religion Act, 2021

The Madhya Pradesh government has notified its Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 on March 27, thus making the law operative in the state. The law was initially passed as an ordinance on December 27, 2020.

The law, along with similar laws passed by states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, has been challenged before the Supreme Court by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), SabrangIndia’s sister organisation. All four laws have been challenged on grounds that it is discriminatory, anti-women, and contravenes the right to privacy and personal liberty of citizens by criminalising interfaith unions. Thus, CJP has prayed for the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act (2018), Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, Madhya Pradesh to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020 and Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2019 to be declared anti-Constitutional and struck down.

About the law

The MP Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 places a burden on individuals to justify their personal decisions to the State authorities throttling their Right to Life and Personal Liberty, Dignity, Freedom of Conscience and Choice. CJP secretary and human rights defender Teesta Setalvad explained, “Such laws need a challenge. Already the spectre of ‘Love Jihad’ an illusory concept has caused unimaginable misery, led to violence and intimidation by police and non-state actors. ‘Laws’ that impinge on privacy, freedoms, autonomy and violate principles of equality and non discrimination have no place in 21st century ‘free India’. More than anything else, they are anti-women as they discriminate against women denying them all agency.”

The MP Act has a unique definition of “conversion” which states that “conversion” means renouncing one religion and adopting another; but the return of any person already converted to the fold of his parental religion shall not be deemed conversion. It also has an additional sub-section that such conversions, carried out in contravention of this provision “will be deemed null and void”.

The Act requires an individual to give a declaration 60 days in advance to the District Magistrate that conversion is being done without any force, coercion, undue influence or allurement. The religious priest/convertor is required to give a similar notice 60 days in advance.

The Act also has a provision about who can file a complaint: Person who is converted by “misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, inducement (or allurement) or by any fraudulent means or by marriage”; or his parents or siblings can file written complaint to the police and any other person who is related to him by blood, marriage or adoption, guardianship or custodianship can also complain but with the leave of the court.

The Act makes a special provision for inheritance and maintenance rights. The provisions state that notwithstanding provisions under section 6 (declaring marriages null and void) and decision of court under section 7 (petition for declaring marriage null and void), any child born out of such marriage will be deemed legitimate and succession to property will be deemed as per religion of the father. It also states that the woman and the child will also be entitled to maintenance as per Chapter IX of the CrPC.

A detailed analysis of the law may be read here.

The notified copy of the law may be read here