Muslim Group Challenges Religious Conversion Laws in Indian Supreme Court

A Muslim organization challenged the anti-conversion laws of five states in the Supreme Court of India.

On January 5, the Muslim organization Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind moved the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutional validity of the anti-conversion laws of five states, claiming that it invades the privacy of an individual's personal decision to adopt another faith.

Advocate Ejaz Maqbool, a representative of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, said, "The scrutiny by the state of a personal decision to convert is a grave assault on personal liberty of an individual and violates Articles 21 (right to dignity, privacy) and 25 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution."

As per the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the legality of the following bills was challenged; the Uttarakhand Freedom Of Religion Act of 2018, the Himachal Pradesh Freedom Of Religion Act of 2019, the Madhya Pradesh Freedom Of Religion Act of 2021, the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, and the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition Of Unlawful Conversion Of Religion Act of 2021.

These bills force an individual to disclose their conversion involuntarily, and the priest who would conduct the ceremony has to contact the local District Magistrate for prior permission. In addition, the converts are the ones who have to present the burden of proof to prove that their conversion to another faith wasn't fueled by coercion or "allurement."

The petition said that "These provisions force a person to disclose his faith and thereby invade into the privacy of a person… The compulsory disclosure of one's religion in any form amounts to violation of their right to manifest his/her beliefs. Therefore, such disclosure is unconstitutional."

The very definition which constitutes the term "allurement" is quite unclear, the petition continued. The bills claim that any type of allurement given to the convert to change their faith would come under "undue influence," which will automatically make the whole conversion unlawful. The same goes for the term "undue influence," which is also vague.

The petition added, "The phrase 'undue influence' is too wide and vague and can be used to prosecute any person in a stronger position vis-a-vis the converted person. The extremely broad nature of the doctrine of 'undue influence may be used to prosecute elders, parents and other such persons who wield a degree of influence over a person."

Meanwhile, by loosely interpreting the phrase, the result would be that dissatisfied family members would have enough room to harass the convert.

Jamiat said that the five bills discourage the legitimate exercise of the right to profess and propagate one's religion, as listed in Article 25 of the Constitution.

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