SC says forced conversions may affect national security, freedom of religion

Prelims level : Policies Mains level : GS-II Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
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Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court has recently said religious conversions by means of force, allurement or fraud may “ultimately affect the security of the nation and freedom of religion and conscience of citizens”, while directing the Centre to “step in” and clarify what it intends to do to curb compulsory or deceitful religious conversions.

About the News:

  • The court was hearing a petition, which said a special law should be enacted against forced conversions or the act should be incorporated as an offence in the Indian Penal Code. 
  • The petition has alleged “mass conversions” of socially and economically underprivileged people, particularly those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

What did the SC has said?

  • There may be freedom of religion, but there may not be freedom of religion by forced conversion. Everybody has the right to choose their religion, but not by forced conversion or by giving temptation.
  • The court ordered the Centre to file an affidavit on or before November 22, detailing what actions it proposed to take to curb forced conversions, and scheduling the case for hearing on November 28. It said such conversions were reported more in poor and tribal areas.

Rationale behind the enactment of anti-conversion laws in India:

  • Threats of forceful conversion.
  • Problem of Inducement or allurement.
  • Religious conversion is not a Fundamental Right.

What do critics say?

  • Such laws have come under sharp criticism from several legal scholars who had contended that the concept of ‘love jihad’ did not have any constitutional or legal basis.
  • They have pointed to Article 21 of the constitution which guarantees individuals the right to marry a person of one’s choice.
  • Also, under Article 25, freedom of conscience, the practice and conversion of religion of one’s choice including not following any religion, are also guaranteed.

Supreme Court on Marriage and Conversion:

  • The Apex Court of India in its several judgments has held that the state and the courts have no jurisdiction over an adult’s absolute right to choose a life partner.
  • The Supreme Court of India, in both the Lily Thomas and Sarla Mudgal cases, has confirmed that religious conversions carried out without a bona fide belief and for the sole purpose of deriving some legal benefit do not hold water.
  • Salamat Ansari-Priyanka Kharwar case of Allahabad High Court 2020: The right to choose a partner or live with a person of choice was part of a citizen’s fundamental right to life and liberty (Article 21).

Need of the hour:

  • There is a need for uniformity: Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights mentions everyone has the right to freedom of religion including changing their faith. Since it is a state subject, the Centre can frame a model law like Model law on contract farming etc.
  • States while enacting anti-conversion laws should not put any vague or ambiguous provisions for the person who wanted to convert of his own will.
  • The anti-conversion laws also need to include a provision to mention the valid steps for conversion by minority community institutions.
  • People also need to be educated about the provisions and ways of Forceful conversions, Inducement or allurement, etc.
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