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6. Is there a legal right to convert?

      This is a subject that is coming up for discussion quite a lot. There is a Constitutional provision which gives a right to propagate one's religion. The proponents of the conversion programme say that this also implies that there is a right to ask people to convert. However, all rights are subject to maintenance of public order, and if there is a threat to it, then the right has to be restricted. This is the way all civil societies function.
    The issue of conversions due to force, fraud and inducements was debated at the time of framing the Constitution immediately after the independence in 1947. A specific provision was not put in, since it was said that such conversions are immoral - a fact accepted by the Christian members of the Constituent Assembly. In the aftermath of the Niyogi Committee, Madhya Pradesh, followed by Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh, had to enact a law specifically prohibiting such activities. In all the cases, the governments belonged to the Congress party. In 1977, when these acts were challenged, the Supreme Court ruled that the states had acted legally and within the spirit of the Constitution. Thus, a fundamental right to convert has been denied by the Supreme Court.
     While a person cannot be denied a right to convert himself on his own free will, and after his own study of the religion he wishes to adopt and the one that he wishes to leave, the right to ask someone else to change should be questioned. At the same time, conversions due to force, inducements and fraud have to be determined as illegal. While today the use of force (in physical terms) is limited, given that the proselytising religions do not have the state power to back them while being in a minority, conversions due to inducements and fraud are quite rampant. Mass conversions, the so-called faith healing programmes, conversions in the guise of offering social service, etc., will fall in the illegal category.
    When discussing the legal provisions on conversions, it has to be understood that it causes tremendous social tensions. Thus, conversions have to be looked at from a social angle and not merely a legal one.

See also (Q. 7)
(Q.30) & (Q31)


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