The Supreme Court (SC) recently in Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay vs Union of India case has expressed deep concern related to charity-conversion nexus stating that the objective of persons offering such charity need to be examined. The Bench also observed that there may be a freedom of religion, but no freedom for forced conversion.


Religious freedom debate in Constituent Assembly

  • The Constitution makers while keeping Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 in mind repeatedly debated, religious freedom as a people’s right in the Constituent Assembly.
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948: Article 18 of the declaration proclaimed that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
      • This right includes freedom to change his/her religion or belief, and freedom to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
  • The first draft of the future Constitution proposed to restrain conversion except by one’s own free will.
  • The second draft, however, was to recognise the “right to preach and convert within limits compatible with public order and morality.”
  • Eventually, the Constitution recognised the right to propagate, along with freedom of conscience and the right to profess and practice one’s religion as people’s fundamental right.


Judicial interpretation of freedom of religion

  • Ratilal Panachand Gandhi case, 1954 — The apex court observed that Article 25 covered every individual’s right to propagate his/her religious views for the enlightenment of others.
  • Shirur Math case, 1954 — The SC held that it is the propagation of belief that is protected, no matter whether the propagation takes place in a church or monastery, or in a temple.
  • Stainislaus vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1977 — The SC held that Article 25 does not grants the right to convert another person to one’s own religion but (only) to transmit and spread one’s religion by an exposition of its tenets.
      • The apex court further held that fraudulent or induced conversion impinges upon the right to freedom of conscience of an individual apart from hampering public order and therefore the state was well within its power to regulate and restrict the same.
  • Ranjeet Mohite case, 2015 — The Bombay HC held that the freedom of conscience of a person includes a right to openly say that he does not believe to any religion.


Supreme Court’s opinion in the recent case

  • Examining the intentions of charity — The SC said that it would examine hidden intentions behind religious conversions through allurement by offering food, medicines, treatment, etc.
  • Differentiating conversions based on self-belief and allurement — The court also stated that conversion on the basis of a voluntarily felt belief in the deity of a different faith is different from belief gained through allurement.


What is the government’s opinion?

  • It is “cognisant of the menace” of forced conversions and will take “appropriate steps” to deal with it.
  • It also submitted that anti-conversion laws are necessary for protecting the rights of vulnerable sections of the society, including women and economically and socially backward classes”.
  • A neutral authority will decide whether the conversion is by allurement or a person is converting as a result of a religious or philosophical change of heart.


Way forward

  • Religious freedom is the hallmark of pluralism and inclusiveness and is meant to advance social harmony and diversity. Therefore, while legitimate restrictions on this freedom are to be accepted, irrational and motivated intrusion into religious notions should be prevented.
  • Uniformity should also be bought in the anti-conversion legislation by the Centre by framing a model law like Model law on contract farming, etc.
  • People also need to be educated about the provisions and ways of forceful conversions, inducement or allurement, etc., and punishment against “fraudulent” conversions must also be raised to deter others from infringing on fundamental freedoms.


SourceThe Indian Express


QUESTION – The religious conversions through allurement or force are not in sync with the secular character of the Indian polity. Discuss the recent observations of the apex court regarding this matter.