Religious conversion, especially the Christian missionary variety, has been the cause of much talk in recent times. Calls for banning all religious conversion are common. But some states in India already have very capable legislation to take care matters arising out of aggressive mass-conversion. These laws, even though present, are seldom put into effect for fear of drawing attention from India’s self-styled guardians of secularism. They decry any attempts against controlling the menace of mass-conversion as totalitarian, unconstitutional, anti-freedom and so on and so forth. The following excerpt sums up the so-called anti-conversion law of Odisha, my home state. As is obvious, it really isn’t anti-conversion at all.
Orissa passed a law in 1967 to regulate conversions. It is known as the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act. Its constitutionality — as well as that of the allied law in Madhya Pradesh — has been upheld by a five judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Rev. Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh [AIR 1977 SC 908]. Among other things, the law provides, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet such conversion.” Anyone doing so, the Act provides, shall be punished by imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of Rs. 5,000. In case the offence relates to a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Tribes, the punishment shall be double.
3 (i) Each District Magistrate shall maintain a list of religious institutions or organizations propagating religious faith in his district and that of persons directly or indirectly engaged for propagation of religious faith in the district.
(ii) The District Magistrate, if he thinks fit, may call for a list of persons with the religious faith, receiving benefits either in cash or in kind from the religious organizations or institutions or from any person connected therewith.
4. Any person intending to convert his religion shall give a declaration before a Magistrate, 1st Class, having jurisdiction prior to such conversion that he intends to convert his religion on his own will.
5 (i) The concerned religious priest shall intimate the date, time and place of the ceremony in which conversion shall be made along with the names and addresses of the persons to be converted to the concerned District Magistrate before fifteen days of the said ceremony.
(ii) The intimation shall be in Form A and shall be delivered either personally by the Priest to the concerned District Magistrate or sent to him by registered post with acknowledgment due.
6. The District Magistrate on receiving the intimation from the priest shall sign thereon stating the date on which and the hour at which the intimation has been delivered to him or received by him, and shall forthwith acknowledge the receipt thereof in Form B.
7. The District Magistrate shall maintain a register of conversion in Form C and shall cover therein particulars of the intimation received by him.
8. Any person who contravenes the provisions of Rule 5 or 6 shall be liable to a fine of Rupees one thousand.
9. The District Magistrate shall by the 10th of each month send to the State Government a report of intimations received by him during the preceding month in Form D.
The excerpt has been taken from an article called ‘Who killed Australian Missionary Graham Staines‘ by Arun Shourie. As is obvious, there is nothing “draconian” about the so-called anti-conversion law. But don’t expect to hear the nuances of it from the keepers of Indian secularism. Every individual has a right to choose his spiritual path, but when religious conversions are used to divide communities and cause violent disturbance, then something like this piece of legislation can go a long way towards fixing things.