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US Religious Freedom Commission Seeks Repeal of India's Anti-Conversion Laws

By Shaikh Azizur Rahman March 23, 2023

Leaders of Indian minority communities say controversial anti-conversion laws enacted in some states of India are aimed at persecuting and harassing Christian Muslim minorities, as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has expressed concerns and called for the laws' revocation.

"India's state-level anti-conversion laws violate international human rights law's protections for the right to freedom of religion or belief. They impermissibly limit and punish an individual's right to convert and right to persuade or support another individual to convert voluntarily," the commission said in a report released March 14, Issue Update: India's State-Level Anti-Conversion Laws.

"The anti-conversion laws also worsen religious freedom conditions in India which, as USCIRF has reported, are already poor," the commission added.

Hindu groups and leaders of India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party allege that Christian missionaries are converting people across India through allurement, use of force and fraudulent means. In recent years, they have also claimed that Muslims were converting people to Islam through unfair means.

There are state-level anti-conversion laws enacted in 12 of India's 28 states. Some other states are considering introducing the law.

The states where the anti-conversion laws are in force say they have enacted them to tackle involuntary conversions.

The USCIRF said several features of the anti-conversion laws, among them prohibitions on conversions, notice requirements, and burden-shifting provisions, are "inconsistent with international human rights law's protections for freedom of religion or belief."

"Each of these features violates rights protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," the commission said in announcing the report. India has been a signatory to the declaration since 1942, and it also ratified the covenant in 1979.

The report also said "enforcement of state-level anti-conversion laws suggests the legislations' intent is to prevent conversions to disfavored religions—such as Christianity and Islam— and not to protect against coerced conversions".

Chander Uday Singh, a senior counsel at India's Supreme Court, said "there is no doubt whatsoever" that India's anti-conversion laws are "intended to marginalize and persecute Muslims and Christians" and that the so-called issue of "love jihad" was a "vicious product of hate-spewing imaginations".

"Love jihad is a myth, a pernicious lie that has been repeated thousands of times in spite of being proved to be nonexistent. ... Several state and national investigating agencies have closed their inquiries into the related cases on finding that there is no such thing as love jihad," Singh told VOA.

New Delhi-based lawyer Mujeeb ur Rehman told VOA that charging someone and putting the onus to prove his innocence on him is "nothing more than prosecuting the person without evidence which can never be accepted in a civilized and liberal society."

"In the true spirit of the Constitution, citizens are free to profess or even not to profess any religion as they want, and scrutinizing someone's faith to look out for the motivation behind conversion from one religion to another should not be the domain of any State. It is intruding the personal domain or privacy of a person and it also raises questions on the capability of a person to choose right," Rehman said.

Gujarat-based Jesuit rights activist, the Rev. Cedric Prakash, said that the Article 25 of the Constitution of India guarantees that everyone has a right to freely preach, practice and propagate their religion.

"But the draconian anti-conversion laws violate the fundamental rights of a citizen of India. The anti-conversion laws are clearly meant to crack down on India's religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. They are also meant to polarize the people on religious lines ... and to legitimize majoritarianism in the country," Prakash told VOA.

However, the leaders of India's ruling party insist that the anti-conversion laws have been enacted to "stop the conversions done by coercive measures."

"In India, many people are being converted by the promise of marriage, allurement of money and also through other unethical means. The anti-conversion laws are meant to put a stop to such illegal practices," Alok Vats, a New Delhi-based senior BJP leader told VOA.

"Certainly, we have no issues with voluntary conversions. None can challenge the freedom of a person changing religion voluntarily."

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