India is a country filled with full of diversities, there are cultural, religious, linguistic and many more types of diversities but still, there is unity and freedom. In 1950, the Constitution through the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 declared India as a secular state which means everyone has a right to practise his or her religion peacefully. It also suggests that an individual can choose his/her religion and here comes the point of conversion of religion. Religious conversion has become the subject of passionate debate in recent times in India. From the early 20th century onwards, it has surfaced again and again in the political realm, in the media and in the courts. It caught its peak during the last few decades when the plethora of newspapers, journals, and books whose pages have been devoted to the question of conversion.
In brief, Religion can be defined as a belief or faith in the existence of a Supernatural Being and the precepts which people follow for attaining salvation. And it may be regarded as belief and patterns of behaviours by which human try to deal with what they view as important problems which cannot be solved through the application of known technologies and techniques of an organisation. To overcome these limitations, people turn to the operation of supernatural beings and powers. Religion comprises various rituals, prayers, songs, dances, offerings and sacrifices, through which people try to manipulate supernatural beings and powers to their advantages. India is a nation of many religions and freedom of religion has been accorded constitutional protection. Articles 25 to 28 constitute significant constitutional provisions on freedom of religion. The term religion is nowhere defined in the Indian Constitution but the term has been given expansive content by way of judicial interpretation. And religion has been a volatile issue in the country capable of inciting sentiments which have often seen being translated into violent outpourings in the public sphere.
Indian Constitution about Freedom of Religion
Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees various fundamental rights. Article 25- 28 provides for the right to freedom of religion which is largely based upon Irish Constitution. Article 25(1) 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, practice and propagate religion”. It clearly denotes that this right is not limited to only the citizens but to all persons. Clause 2 provides that state can interfere in matters related to any economic, financial, political or any other secular activity which is associated with religious practice and any other activity related to social welfare and reform.
Religious conversion means adopting a new religion, a religion that is different from his previous religion or religion by his birth. There are various reasons for which people convert to different religion:
- Conversion by free will or free choice
- Conversion due to change of beliefs
- Conversion for convenience
- Conversion due to marriage
- Conversion by force
In the India convenience is the most important cause for religious conversion. Often religious conversions are insincere and prompted not by any change in beliefs but for trivial reasons such as for gaining admission in institutions that favour people of a certain religion. In Hinduism caste plays a pivotal role in conversion a large number of people who came from lower caste in India convert their religion to caste-less religions such as Christianity or Islam to escape the cast divide and all the other problems that accompany it.
Conversion of religion by force is not acceptable according to our present system and there are many Anti-conversion laws to prevent it, however, there is not any special central level law for this but Fundamental Rights mentioned in Part III of the constitution prohibit conversion by force. Currently there are anti-conversion laws are in force in five states: Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat. Similar laws have been passed in Arunachal Pradesh, but are yet to be implemented. However, all these laws are harsher in case of forced conversion of women, children, Dalits, and other tribal outcasts. The reason behind this is that all these groups are consideredinherently naive and easy to manipulation.
Some people change their religion for other trivial reasons which have been seen are polygamy, to get reservation benefits, for gaining admission benefits in some institutions that favourpeople of a certain religion only, divorce etc.In SmtSarla Mudgal, President Kalyani and others vs. UOI and others[i],a Hindu husband converted his religion to Islam and solemnized a second marriage as polygamy is permitted in Islam. Supreme Court held that such marriages would be void on the grounds of bigamy under section 17 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and such person will be held liable under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Also, such conversions to Islam will not be considered as a valid conversion if it is done for the purpose of polygamy.
Legal Process of Changing the religion
In India, there is not any legal process for converting religion. With Legal Representative v. Ponnuswami Nadar[ii], the Supreme Court has held in the plethora of cases that conversions do not need any legal requirements, formalities, religious rituals or ceremonies and no formal ceremony of purification or expiration are necessary to effectuate conversion. But it doesn’t mean that a mere declaration is enough for the conversion, clear and credible evidence of the intention to convert the religion is necessary. A bona fide intention accompanied by subsequent conducts unequivocally expressing that intention would conclude that genuine conversion takes place. In Lilly Thomas vs Union of India [iii], it was observed that an apostate husband is guilty of bigamy U/S 494 of IPC if he married another woman after converting into Islam. It was observed that holding such person guilty of bigamy is not a violation of freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution and Section 17 of H.M.A. 1955 applies. The above it is clear that after the pronouncement of the aforesaid judicial verdicts, polygamy is no more a valued person for religious conversion into Islam.
When conversion of religion has done thereafter it has to be notified in Government Gazette so that converted religion can be mentioned in all the legal documents of the person too. In Kailash Sonkar vs. Smt. Maya Devi[iv]the Supreme Court ordered that conversion of religion must be notified to the government. The absence of any statutory provision creates a legal vacuum which putsthe burden on the Registration Officer to take a decision whether conversion took place is genuine or not.The various personal laws provide the rituals which need to be performed in a specified manner at the time of conversion, so whoever wants to convert their religion he or she has to do it in accordance with the ritual and manner of the religion in which they are converting.
Conversion to Islam
By accepting the unity of God and the prophetic character of MuhammadA person can easily convert to Islam.
Believer of Islam can adopt the religion of Islam irrespective of the fact that he is not born Muslim. But the person who has not attained the age of majority and having a sound mind at the time of conversion cannotconvert to Islam. If the person is eligible then he can convert his/her religion in two ways:
He has to declare publicly that he accepts Islam and he has the belief that there is no God except Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah and the words of Holy Quran are the literal words of Allah.
A person can convert his religion to Islam by performing various ceremonies as prescribed in Islam itself. Firstly, the person needs to go to the mosque where imam asks him to say “Shahada” i.e. the testimony of faith. It should be pronounced like “La ilahailla Allah, Muhammad rasoolu Allah.” He cannot hear the testimony just like that. He should say this with conviction and by understanding its full meaning which is “that there is no true deity except Allah and Muhammad is the true messenger sent by God to humankind”. After he reads Kalema, a Muslim name is given to him which has to be registered in the Imam’s register.
But such conversion should be done without any fraud or any wrongful gain. If the conduct and behaviour of the person who is converting his religion go contrary to Islam the presumption of conversion may be rebutted.
Conversion to Hinduism
Hindu Scriptures do not have any procedure to convert to Hindu from any other religion and the reason can be that Hinduism is regarded as the way of life. When someone has made pure intentions to convert to Hinduism, then he will be regarded as a Hindu. To become a follower, one can approach Arya Samaj which is a religious organization for any help. An application for the conversion by free will can be made to any Arya Samaj temple along with a document of proof of age and residence signed by the applicant and two other persons as a witness. Also, it provides for a procedure which involves a Vedic purification ceremony of “Shuddhi Karma”. After this, a certificate of conversion would be issued to the applicant.
Conversion to Christianity
There is not any uniform rule for conversion, many sects have many rituals for the same. The person who want conversion has to believe that Jesus as their saviour and vow to follow his teachings as found in the New Testament.
Religious thoughts and beliefs shape up human conduct in day-to-day life. Right to freedom of conscience, practice, profession and propagation of religion is fundamental to the development of humans. Conversion to any religion that a person wants to be in is his choice and the state has nothing to do with his religion. And as we already discussed every religion has their way to adopt a person in the religion. But forced religion is an illegal act and also violative of the constitution of India.
Question & Answer
- What is religion?
Religion can be defined as a belief or faith in the existence of a Supernatural Being and the precepts which people follow for attaining salvation. And it may be regarded as belief and patterns of behaviours by which human try to deal with what they view as important problems which cannot be solved through the application of known technologies and techniques of organization.
2. What is the position of India with regard to Freedom of Religion?
Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees various fundamental rights. Article 25- 28 provides for the right to freedom of religion which is largely based upon Irish Constitution. Article 25(1) 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, practice and propagate religion”. It clearly denotes that this right is not limited to only the citizens but to all persons.
3. What do you mean by conversion of religion?
Religious conversion means adopting a new religion, a religion that is different from his previous religion or religion by his birth.
4. What are the two ways by which one can convert to Islam?
By declaration and by performing the ceremonies provided by Islam for conversion, one can easily convert his religion to Islam.
5. What is anti-conversion law?
For stop people from forced conversion, there are anti-conversion laws. There are anti-conversion laws are in force in five states: Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat. Similar laws have been passed in Arunachal Pradesh, but are yet to be implemented.
[i]19953 SCC 635.
[ii] AIR 1971 SC 2352
[iii] AIR 1963 SC 185
[iv] AIR 1984 SC 600www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/rel_rel.htm
[viii] Neha Chauhan “RELIGIOUS CONVERSION AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN INDIA: DEBATES AND DILEMMAS”, “ILI Law Review”, Vol. ISummer Issue 201