Conversion of one religion to another religion isn’t governed by any law; which means any person having good faith and belief can convert his/her religion. Our Indian Constitution also states that a person has the freedom to profess, practice and propagate any religion. As such, there is no legal procedure to convert the religion but the conversion must be notified in the Govt. Gazette so that it can be easily affected in all other legal documents.
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How Difficult or Easy is it to change Religion in India? If Freedom of Religion under Constitution is a Fundamental Right, why do we need to follow any other laws?
Recognition of Religions as a human right
Article 18 of the universal declaration of HR declares the freedom of religion in the following terms:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practicing, worship and observance.”
The freedom to change religion is expressly recognized by this Article.
However, India’s Freedom of Religion Acts or “anti-conversion” laws are state-level statutes that have been enacted to regulate religious conversions. The laws are in force in eight out of twenty-nine states:
Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand. While there are some variations between the state laws, they are very similar in their content and structure. All of the laws seek to prevent any person from converting or attempting to convert, either directly or otherwise, another person through “forcible” or “fraudulent” means, or by “allurement” or “inducement.”
But since some states have made anti-conversion laws so now it has somehow become difficult to change religion in India because for changing the religion you have to follow the rules that are governed under the respective anti-conversion law.
Like in Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, if a person wants to change the religion then he has to take the approval from the Dist. Magistrate before 1 month from the date of conversion. In Himachal Pradesh also, a person has to notify the Dist. Magistrate about the conversion at least 30 days before the intended date. Although in Madhya Pradesh, once the conversion has taken place then later you have to notify it to the Dist. Magistrate.
Our Indian Constitution guarantees various fundamental rights that includes right to freedom of religion still we need to abide some other laws because the provisions and the rights given under the constitution are not absolute and are subject to certain restrictions. Like under Article 25, every person is equally permitted to enjoy the freedom of conscience and the right to recognize, practice and spread religion but it does not give the right to convert.
Even this right is subject to certain restrictions i.e. to maintain public law and order, morality and peace in the country.
Hence, the right to freedom of religion is a right guaranteed under the constitution, but at the same time, it is our duty to follow the other respective laws for the betterment of the society.
Suggested Read: 11 Fundamental Duties of Citizens in India
What are the laws active in each of the religions that mandate the Conversions?
The various personal laws provide the specific rituals that need to be followed at the time of changing the religion. But to validate the conversion, it should be done without any fraud or any wrongful gain. Some laws pertaining to the conversion are mentioned below -
Conversion to Hinduism
Under Hindu law, there is no explicit procedure to convert to Hindu from some other religion. The minute where the person has a bonafide intention and honest belief to change over to Hinduism, he will be considered as a Hindu. An application for changing the religion by Free will can be submitted to any Arya Samaj temple alongside a valid proof of age and residence signed by the candidate and two other people as a witness. Also, a person has to go through a purification ceremony of “Shuddhi Karma”. After that, a certificate of conversion will be issued.
Conversion to Islam
There are two simple ways that need to be followed through which a person can renounce his original religion and can convert to Islam.
Through Declaration: He has to declare publicly that he has repudiated his earlier religion so as to convert in Islam. He must have an honest belief that there is no other god except Allah and Muhammad is the true messenger of Allah. Also, he has a belief that the Literal word of God is the Holy Quran.
Through Ceremonies, as prescribed in Islam: Initially, a person will go to the mosque where imam requests him to say “Shahada” i.e. the testimony of faith which signifies “that there is no true deity except Allah and Muhammad is the true messenger sent by God to humankind”. Later, a new Muslim name is additionally given to him which must be enrolled in the Imam’s register.
Conversion to Christianity
Any non-Christian person can repudiate his earlier religion so as to embrace the religion of Christianity by taking a pledge of apology from past sins. Also, the person must have good faith in Jesus and promised to pursue his lessons as defined in the New Testament. A Person has to go through the Baptism in the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit. Although Baptism is the universally accepted ceremony for conversion into Christianity.
What are the Famous Judgments on Conversion of Religion?
In the case of M.Chandra vs. M. Thangamuthu and Another, the Supreme Court decided that there are two major elements that are required to be proved for the conversion from one religion to another religion. Firstly, the conversion must have taken place and secondly the conversion must be accepted by the respective community to which the conversion has taken place.
In Perumal Nadar (dead) by Legal Representative v. Ponnuswami Nadar (minor), the court has declared that in order to prove the conversion, no formal ceremony is required. But in Hindu faith, a bonafide intention and belief to change the religion must be there which can be considered as sufficient evidence to validate the conversion.
In Kailash Sonkar vs. Smt. Maya Devi here the court held that once the person has converted from one religion to another, then the person has to notify it in the Govt. Gazette so that later it will be affected in all other documents.
Lastly in the Sarla Mudgal, President Kalyani and others vs. UOI and others, the court has held that if the person has renounced his religion and converted into Islam for the sole purpose of polygamy then the said conversion cannot be considered as valid. In the Lily Thomas case, it was observed that if the person has converted into Islam and married another woman then the said person will be punished under the Bigamy laws.
To seek the Protection against the Anti-Conversion Activists
Usually, all anti-conversion activists demand that conversion is an abuse of freedom of religion. They contend that freedom of religion does not include freedom to convert from one religion to another. But if these activists threaten your life then you can claim the protection against their violence because their arguments are absolutely contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees people the freedom to speak and hearers the freedom to accept or reject what they have heard and this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.
Even under India’s constitution, it requires the state to treat all the religions equally and impartially and forbids discrimination on the basis of religion. Also, the respective laws have defined that the existence of the people who have converted their religions will be protected by the government.
Moreover, the anti-conversion laws also do not restrict a person’s freedom to convert and are implied to protect the people from forced conversion. Hence, everybody has a right to the protection of the law against such interference or threats by anti-conversion activists.
Top Read: Freedom of expression and speech
What are the Repercussions of Changing Religion?
Conversion from one religion to another has both social and legal consequences. It usually affects succession, marital status of the person and also the right to seek elective office. So a person can take the divorce on the ground that his/her spouse has converted into another religion as per Sec. 13 (1), Hindu Marriage Act.
Even if a Muslim husband has repudiated Islam and converted into another religion then his marriage will be automatically considered as dissolved. Thus after conversion, a person will be governed under different personal law.
If a Scheduled Caste or Tribe member has changed the religion and adopted another religion then it’s a fair chance that he may lose his right to contest in the elections which are reserved for SCs/STs. But the right of inheritance will remain unchanged and unaffected even after the conversion.
Thus, the event of conversion is of high significance from the perspective of rights and disabilities of a convert.
How and when do the Laws start affecting the Person after Conversion?
If all the respective rituals have been performed in a specified manner at the time of conversion and also all the legal formalities are done, Conversion will be considered as valid. Subsequently, the person will be governed under new personal law.
The Supreme Court has consistently held that any specific ceremony or ritual is not required to be performed under the law. Only the bonafide intention and good belief of the person to change the religion is the necessary criteria.
Also, the court must be satisfied that the conversion has taken place for that matter, you need to file the declaration pertaining to change the religion and submit before the Govt. officials which is one of the major aspects. However, the registration of conversion into another religion is not mandatorily required.
Suppose if a person has changed his religion and adopted Islam and if he thinks that things like adoption of Muslim name, to have Arabic knowledge, informing others regarding the conversion are prerequisite conditions and only after that Muslim personal law will start affecting me then he may be wrong because the reality is that these are not valid excuses for delaying the conversion. Thus, once you converted into another religion at the same time you will be governed under that personal law only.
Related Read: Family Property Partition in India
Property Partition and Inheritance between the Family Members who have different Religious Practices
Conversion of a Hindu to any other religion operates as a partition of the property between the family members of the family. So a person who is changing the religion will take the share from the family property accordingly on the date of conversion. Hence, conversion to another religion is one of the reasons to affect the Property Partition.
In E.Ramesh & Anr. V. P.Rajini, here it was decided that if a Hindu has changed his religion and adopted any other religion then such conversion will not restrict his right to inherit the ancestral property. Similarly, a Hindu daughter after conversion to Islam does not lose her right to inherit property but her children can’t inherit the grand parent’s property.
Under Muslim Law, the concept of the right of inheritance is not present. Even for Christians, there is no concept of ancestral property or right of inheritance under the Indian Succession Act.
Thus, in the matters of inheritance and property partition, the respective religion of a person at the time of birth will be taken into consideration. Accordingly, a person who has converted his religion is not disqualified from the application of the Succession Act to inherit his/her father's property.