|Did You Know...India (December 10, 2012)|
...that five states in India have adopted anti-conversion laws?
India’s anti-conversion laws have created a climate of intimidation against minority faiths, are difficult to enforce, and run afoul of international human rights standards and protections. They also contradict Article 25 of the Indian constitution which grants to Indian citizens the right to profess, practice and propagate their faith in a way that neither disrupts public order nor adversely affects public health and morality.
Five states in India (Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat , Chhatitsgarh, and Himachal Pradesh) each have adopted a “Freedom of Religion Act ” (FORA), commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws. According to India’s 2011 provisional census, these states have a combined population of 207,325,256. Two other states have adopted FORAs, but they are considered unenforceable; Arunanchal Pradesh’s FORA has not been fully promulgated, and Rajasthan’s state assembly passed a bill, but the state’s Chief Minister has yet to sign it into law. Jharkhand, Karnataka and Manipur states also have considered similar legislation. While the fully adopted FORAs in the five states are not identical, they share the same two principles: (1) the FORA prohibits the “forcible conversion” of someone from one religion to another; and (2) the FORA creates a requirement that the local government be given notice of all religious conversions.
In theory, the FORAs protect individuals from forced or coercive conversion. However, in practice the ill-defined terminology, particularly the interpretation of what is considered inducement or coercive acts, has led to societal and police harassment. Additionally, the requirement to register a conversion places government officials in the awkward and inappropriate position of assessing the genuineness and therefore the legality of conversions. This requirement gives a religiously-biased governmental official the power to determine that an individual’s change of faith was illegal, despite the individual citing no harm to themselves.
In August 2012, Himachal Pradesh High Court struck down parts of its FORA for violating the state constitution. The two offending provisions were: Rule 4 (obligation to notify the authorities within 30 days of one's intention to convert to a religion other than Hinduism), and Rules 3 and 5 (requiring the state to investigate conversions).
Human rights organizations and religious community leaders all have praised the High Court’s decision and called on the Indian and state governments to review all FORAs that have been adopted.