The Modi government may bring forward a bill to prevent fraudulent religious conversions in the country, Zee News has reported. While the media outlet has quoted unnamed sources in their report, there is a precedent for such a law given the history of Prime Minister Modi and his right-hand man Home Minister Amit Shah.
During their time in Gujarat, as early as 2003, the duo managed to pass the Freedom of Religion Act through the Assembly. The objective of the Act is “to provide for freedom of religion by the prohibition of conversion from one religion to another by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means and for the matters incidental thereto.”
The Act states clearly, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet such conversion.” It also mandates that anyone found to be in violation of this provision will be liable to a fine of Rs. 50,000 and imprisonment of up to 3 years.
If the said provision is violated with respect to a woman, minor or a person from the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, then the punishment is more stringent. The person would be liable to a fine of Rs. 1 lakh and imprisonment of up to 4 years.
According to provisions of the Act, it was also made mandatory for people to seek permission for conversion from the District Magistrate. After the conversion has taken place, the District Magistrate needs to be informed of the same. Failure to do so without adequate reason carries punishment as well.
An amendment was proposed 3 years later which withdrawn in 2008. The proposed amendment considered Jainism and Buddhism to be denominations of the Hindu faith in the same manner as Protestantism and Catholicism are sects of Christianity and Sunnis and Shias are Islamic sects. If the Assembly had passed the said amendment, then government permission would not have been required for conversion between denominations of the same faith.
Unsurprisingly, Christian missionaries weren’t very pleased with the implementation of the Act. Sajan George, President of the Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians, told AsiaNews in 2007: “The Gujarat Government must withdraw this draconian freedom of religion act. This Bill -in its original form as it was passed on March 26, 2003 – violates the constitutional rights of citizens and is very divisive in nature. Article 25 of the Constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, guarantee to every single individual the right to preach, propagate and practise one’s religion and to choose the religion of one’s conscience.”
in 2015, Archbishop of Gandhinagar Stanislaus Fernandes and others sought to amend a 2009 petition challenging the Act as they wanted to challenge a rule which requires disclosure of ‘reason’ for conversion. The petition challenged the Act on the basis of freedom of religion.
With India entering a phase of a de-facto one party-state with the Bharatiya Janata Party at the helm, it appears extremely likely that a version of the Act will be implemented at the national level. The Zee News report appears to confirm that discussions are underway for the same.
It has been a longstanding demand of Hindus for the Indian state to curb the menace of Christian evangelism that threatens to destabilize the demography of the country. As is known, unstable demography is a recipe for chaos. In addition to Christian evangelism, if such an Act is passed at the national level, it could also help curb the menace of Love Jihad. The conversion of Non-Muslim girls to Islam through fraudulent means will be considered criminal as well if the national Bill is in consonance with the Act engineered by the Modi-Shah duo in Gujarat.
The criminalization of Triple Talaq but more importantly, the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, has demonstrated that the BJP is willing to upend the Nehruvian order. An anti-conversion bill along the lines of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act will be another nail in the coffin for Nehruvian Secularism.