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Foreign-funded religious conversions in India

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    16th Dec, 2022

Context

A PIL filed in the Supreme Court has mentioned that women and children are the main targets of “foreign-funded” religious conversion in India.

About

Key-points highlighted in the Plea

  • Review the rules made under theForeign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) for foreign-funded NGOs and individuals to curb alleged activities related to religious conversions.
  • It points at the legal vacuum on the issueand how it has led to the deployment of “unethical predatory conversion strategies” to convert socially and economically backward citizens.
  • Take stringent steps to control funding through hawalaand other routes to further religious conversions.

Methods used for fraudulent religious conversion:

  • Intimidation
  • Threatening
  • Deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits
  • Superstition (Black Magic’ Miracles)
  • The center must step to confiscate ‘Benami’ propertiesand disproportionate assets of persons and institutions involved in “fraudulent religious conversion”.
  • It also points out that; women and children are the main targetsof foreign-funded missionaries and conversion groups.
    • The States have not taken appropriate steps to control religious conversion in the spirit of Article 15(3).
    • The situation is alarming as many individuals and organizations are carrying mass conversion of socially and economically underprivileged SCs-STs.

What is Religious Conversion?

  • Religious conversion is the adoption of a set of beliefs identified with one particular religiousdenomination to the exclusion of others.

Do States have laws on conversions?

  • In post-independent India, Odisha became the first State to enact a law restricting religious conversions, which later became a model framework for other states. Odisha’s 1967 Act
  • Later, Madhya Pradesh brought in the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (1968).

More than ten Indian States have passed laws prohibiting certain means of religious conversions- Arunachal Pradesh (1978), Gujarat (2003) Chhattisgarh (2000 and 2006), Rajasthan (2006 and 2008), Himachal Pradesh (2006 and 2019), and Tamil Nadu (a law was enacted in 2002, but repealed in 2004), Jharkhand (2017), Uttarakhand (2018), Uttar Pradesh (2021), and Haryana (2022).

What is the Status of Anti-Conversion Laws in India?

  • Constitutional Provision: The Indian Constitution under Article 25 guaranteesthe freedom to profess, propagate, and practice religion, and allows all religious sections to manage their own affairs in matters of religion, subject to public order, morality, and health.
  • However, no person shall force their religious beliefs and consequently, no person should be forced to practice any religion against their wishes.

Are there any existing Central laws?

  • There has been ‘no central legislation’ restricting or regulatingreligious conversions.
  • However, since 1954, on multiple occasions, Private Member Billshave been introduced in (but never approved by) Parliament, to regulate religious conversions.
  • Further, in 2015, the Union Law Ministry stated that Parliament does not have the legislative competence to pass anti-conversion legislation.

Issues Associated with Anti-Conversion Laws:

  • Uncertain and Vague Terminology: The uncertain and vague terminology like misrepresentation, force, fraud, and allurement presents a serious avenue for misuse.
  • Antithetical to Minorities: Another issue is that the present anti-conversion laws focus more on the prohibition of conversion to achieve religious freedom.
  • Antithetical to Secularism: These laws may pose a threat to the secular fabric of India and the international perception of our society’s intrinsic values and legal system.

Supreme Court Judgements on Marriage and Conversion:

  • Hadiya Judgement 2017: Matters of dress and of food, ideas, ideologies, love, and partnership are within the central aspects of identity.
    • 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.
    • The principle that the right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to Article 21.
  • S. Puttaswamy or ‘privacy’ Judgment 2017: The autonomy of the individual was the ability to make decisions in vital matters of concern to life.
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