Yuva - India

Ordinance on Unlawful Conversion: A factual take

The recent ordinance on unlawful conversion enacted by the Government of Uttar Pradesh has opened a pandora’s box. Ever since the implementation of the law, there have been debates on primetime shows on various news channels. A bunch of articles have been published on online platforms debating as to “Is this law truly secular?” and whether it will affect inter-faith marriages and the special marriage act. The commonality in these news articles is how the Hindu fanatics and the ruling government is responsible for bringing this law into force and how it is violating the fundamental right of a person to follow whichever religion he/she wants to. There have been many posts on various social media platforms where lies are being peddled and the youth is being brainwashed. As a responsible citizen of this country, it is our duty to read the facts and create awareness rather than spreading misinformation by becoming blind followers.

The ordinance titled “Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 (Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Virudh Dharma Samparivartan Pratished Adhyadesh, 2020) was cleared by the state cabinet on 24th November 2020. The ordinance is provided for the prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by force or fraudulent means and no person shall convert or attempt to convert any person of one religion to another by falsely representing himself/herself and impersonating as some other person and luring another person by any means, or forcing someone with the help of psychological pressure or physical force or threatening with physical injury, nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion.

Nowhere in the ordinance can one find any provision which demeans or suppresses any religion. Having said that some aspects of the law need to be elaborated since the primary concern is how efficiently the law will be implemented. And to those people who have an issue with this law, remember “A guilty conscience needs no accuser”. It has become a trend nowadays to bash the government and spread “communal” hatred. Every issue is turned communal and people with the least knowledge are the ones who talk the loudest. They consider social media platforms a sink where people without taking any pain to read the facts, blurt out baseless arguments from their vacant peanut-sized brains.

The Anti conversion law has been into force in 7 out of 29 states in India namely Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. Penalties for breaching the law range from monetary fines to imprisonments. Some of the laws are stiffer if women, minors, or members of Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes are converted forcibly. Interestingly, most of the states were not under the rule of BJP or any of its alliances when this rule was brought into force. In Himachal Pradesh, this law has been brought into effect in 2007, and according to the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, “[i]ts adoption is particularly ironic in view of the fact that the state government is led by the Congress Party, which has consistently sought to highlight its ‘secular’ credentials”. Some of the ministers from the ruling party have voiced for nationwide anti-conversion law to criminalize religious conversions without the government’s consent. However, the Ministry of Law and Justice advised against this move and stated that this is purely a state subject. Therefore, at the state level, Freedom of Religion acts have been enacted to regulate religious conversions carried out by fraud, force, or by other inducements discussed above.

The Supreme Court stated a few points regarding this matter in Rev Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh and I quote “It has to be remembered that Article 25(1) guarantees “freedom of conscience” to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of one particular religion, and that, in turn, postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, as distinguished from his effort to transmit or spread the tenets of his religion, that would impinge on the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike. . . . It has to be appreciated that the freedom of religion enshrined in the Article [25] is not guaranteed in respect of one religion only, but covers all religions alike, and it can be properly enjoyed by a person if he exercises his right in a manner commensurate with the like freedom of persons following the other religions. What is freedom for one, is freedom for the other, in equal measure, and there can therefore be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one’s own religion”. It clearly states that following any faith is a matter of free will, consent, and “Freedom of conscience” and there can be no such thing as the right to convert anyone to one’s own religion without consent.

Therefore, to sum up the entire issue I would say that exercising my Freedom of Religion, practicing my beliefs has to be my free will. One has the right to propagate one’s religion as much as any other individual belonging to a different religion, but one cannot force anyone to convert into one’s religion. Interfaith marriages are an affair between two individuals with their due consent. There should not be any obligation on any one of them to renounce their religion and accept the other’s. It is a matter of pride that such a law has been implemented in one of the most populous states in India. There could not have been a more pro-secular law!

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