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What are the existing laws on religious conversions?

GS Paper 2

Syllabus: Indian Constitution—historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.


Source: TH 

Direction: The article discusses the issue of religious conversion in India and its constitutional-legal-judicial interpretation.

 Context: The SC’s recent remarks on religious conversions have brought into the spotlight the long-standing debate about what the fundamental right to propagate one’s religious faith implies.



  • Recently, the SC stated that acts of charity to benefit a community or the poor should not be followed by a desire to religiously convert them as payback.
  • The SC has been hearing a plea seeking a special law against forced conversions, alleging that mass conversions of underprivileged people are being carried out.
  • Earlier, the SC stated that religious conversions by means of force, allurement or fraud may ultimately affect the security of the nation and the freedom of religion and conscience of citizens.
  • The SC asked the Centre to clarify what it was doing to curb such conversions.


Freedom of Religion in India:

  • Constituent Assembly debates: It discussed the inclusion of the “right to propagate” as a fundamental right and considered replacing the word “propagate” with “practise privately”, fearing forceful conversions.
  • Constitutional provisions: Article 25(1) equally entitles all persons to the freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate religion freely.
  • Judicial interpretation:
    • In 1950, the SC held (in Arun Ghosh vs. State of West Bengal) that attempts to raise communal passions through forcible conversions would be considered a breach of public order.
      • It is within the power of States under the State List (Entry 1) of the 7th Schedule of the Constitution to enact Freedom of Religion laws.
    • The SC (in Rev. Stainislaus vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1977), dissected Article 25 to hold that the Article does not grant the right to convert other persons to one’s own religion.
      • The court upheld the validity of two regional anti-conversion laws – the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (1968) and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (1967).


Anti-conversions laws enacted by the States in India:

  • Before independence, princely States had Acts such as the Raigarh State Conversion Act of 1936, which were mainly against conversion to Christianity.
  • In post-independence India, more than ten Indian States have passed laws prohibiting certain means of religious conversion.
    • Odisha became the first State to enact a law restricting forceful religious conversions, which later became a model framework for other states.
    • The MP Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (1968), required whoever converted any person to intimate the District Magistrate that such a conversion had taken place.
    • The UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, declares marriages “null and void” if the conversion is solely for that purpose and provides for imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine.


Why have these laws been challenged? Several HC verdicts and SC’s views (in the same petition which is mentioned in the ‘Background’ above), invoked the Puttaswamy judgement (2018) to hold that religious faith was a part of the fundamental right to privacy.


The Centre’s stand:

  • The right to religion did not include the right to convert other people through fraud, deception, coercion, allurement and other means.
  • According to the SC, fraudulent or induced conversion impinged upon the right to freedom of conscience apart from hampering public order.
  • Therefore, the state is well within its power to regulate/restrict forceful conversion.


Conclusion: “What is freedom for one is freedom for all, and hence there can be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert others to one’s own religion” – SC


Insta Links:

Do we need a Central law against forced conversion?


Mains Links:

Q. Examine the various issues in India’s fundamental right to religion. How can the issue of “forced” or “deceitful” conversions be addressed? (250 words)