For Prelims: Articles 14, 21, and 25 of the Constitution, anti-conversion laws enacted by some states, and the Constitution's guarantees of religious freedom.

For Mains: laws against conversions, related issues, and Supreme Court rulings.

Why in the news?

As it is a "grave" issue, the Supreme Court has asked the Center to intervene and take real action to stop the practice. Additionally, it warned that a "challenging situation" would arise if forced religious conversions were not stopped. 

What do we need to know about religious conversion?

Adopting a set of beliefs associated with one specific religious denomination at the exclusion of others is called "religious conversion." Therefore, "religious conversion" would describe leaving one denomination and joining another.

There are two types of religious conversion

  • External religious conversion

  • Internal religious conversion

When a person adopts a new religion distinct from their previous religion, this is known as "external conversion." 

Another is "internal conversion," which refers to switching between denominations while remaining a member of the same religion.

Conversion to Other Religions in India: The Process

In India, the procedures for converting to various religions differ slightly.

Islamist conversion :

Visit a mosque in the area and perform the Shahada in front of a Maulvi and two important witnesses if you want to convert to Islam. A conversion certificate, or a Shahada certificate, is issued by the Maulvi following the performance of the Shahada and is printed on the mosque's letterhead. 

Date and witness information is included in this document. Individuals can begin practising Islam as soon as they receive their conversion certificate. The conversion certificate must be submitted with the application for notification in the official government gazette.

Christianity conversion :

A Baptism procedure is carried out when someone visits a church to change their religion. The individual would receive a new Christian name and a church-issued conversion certificate. When submitting a request for publication in the official Government Gazette, the conversion certificate must be included.

Hinduism conversion

There is no formal ceremony or conversion process to become a practising Hindu. Simply studying the scriptures and adhering to the religion's laws and practices is all that is required; except this, no other commitment is required. 

If you go to an Arya Samaj temple in your area and express your desire to convert to Hinduism, they will give you a certificate of conversion, and you can leave with it. The conversion certificate must be submitted with the application for publication in the official Government Gazette.

What was the court's ruling and petition?

  • During the petition hearing, the SC asked for instructions to the Centre and the states to take strict measures to stop such conversions.

  • According to the court, forced conversion is extremely risky and could impact people's freedom of religion and conscience and the security of the country.

  • The petition demanded that the Constitution's Articles 14, 21, and 25 be violated by "intimidation, threatening, and deceptively luring through gifts and monetary benefits."

  • The argument cited the Supreme Court's statement in the Rev. Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh case from 1977, which stated: "It must be remembered that Article 25(1) guarantees 'freedom of conscience to every citizen, not just adherents of one particular religion, and that, in turn, postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one's religion.

  • This is because, in contrast to an individual's effort to transmit or spread the tenets of their religion, engaging in the deliberate conversion of another person to that religion would violate the guarantee of equal protection under the law for everyone's right to conscience.

What is the status of Anti-Conversion laws in India?

State Laws 

Many states have passed the 'Freedom of Religion' ordinance to restrict or reduce forceful or fraudulent religious conversions. Such laws are presently enacted in eight states for years. These states, in order of enactment, are,

  • Odisha in 1967

  • Madhya Pradesh in 1968

  • Arunachal Pradesh in 1978

  • Chhattisgarh in 2000 and 2006

  • Gujarat in 2003

  • Himachal Pradesh in 2006 and 2019

  • Jharkhand in 2017

  • Uttarakhand in 2018

Constitutional Rule 

  • The freedom to profess, propagate, and practice religion is guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, and all religious groups are permitted to manage their affairs in religious matters, subject to public order, morality, and health.

  • However, practising a religion against one's will is against the law and is something that no one should be forced to do.

Documents Required for Religion Change in India

  • Pan card, driver's license, passport, Aadhar card, and voter ID are all acceptable forms of identification.

  • Aadhar cards, ration cards, or utility bills can be used as proof of address.

  • One passport-sized photo as proof of ownership

  • Application Form - A properly filled-out application form that includes the old and new religions, old names, current addresses, contact information, and a statement explaining why the applicant wishes to change their religion.

Alternative Documents

  • Certificate of Matrimony (For Married Women) 

  • Affidavit (made, if applicable, following conversion, etc.)

  • Divorce documents (in case of divorce, etc.)

Constitutional provisions :RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION (ARTICLE 25 - ARTICLE 28

ARTICLE 25

Article 25 guarantees the freedom of conscience, the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion to all citizens.

ARTICLE 26

Freedom to manage religious affairs

ARTICLE 27

Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion

ARTICLE 28

Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions