Religious conversion has become the subject of passionate debate in contemporary
India. From the early 20th century onwards, it has surfaced again and again in
the political realm, in the media and in the courts. During the last few decades
the dispute has attained a new climax in the plethora of newspapers, journals,
and books whose pages have been devoted to the question of conversion.
Apparently, a large group of Indians considers this to be an issue of crucial
import to the future of their country.
Generally Speaking, Religion is s system of faith and
worship of supernatural force which ordains regulates and control the destiny of
The Merrian Webster Dictionary defined , Religion as an organized system of
faith and worship, a personal set of religious belief and practice, a cause,
principle or belief held to with faith and order.
The Oxford Dictionary defined, Religion the belief in a super human controlling
power, especially in personal God or Gods entitled to obedience and worship.
Swami Vivekananda perceives religion as - it is based upon faith and belief and
in most cases consist only of different sect of theories that is the reason why
we find all religion quarreling with each other.1
According to Sage Aurobindo, The quest of man for God is the foundation for
religion & its essential function is the search for God and the finding of the
Hinduism in the view of Dr. Radhakrishan is The main aim of the Hindu faith is
to permit image worship as the means to the development of the religious spirit
to the recognition of the Supreme who has his temples in all beings.3
We can conclude from the above discussion that no universally acceptable
definition as to what exactly "religion" is. There appears to be near unanimity
that religion, generally, is a belief or faith in the existence of a
Supernatural Being and the precepts which people follow for attaining salvation.
Religion may be regarded as belief and patterns of behaviors by which human try
to deal with what they view as important problems that can not be solved through
the application of known technologies and techniques of organization. To
overcome these limitations people turn to the manipulation of supernatural
beings and powers.
Religion consist of various rituals, prayers, songs, dances, offerings and
sacrifices, through which people try to manipulate supernatural beings and
powers to their advantages. These being
and power may consist of Gods and Goddesses, ancestral and other spirits or
impersonal power either by themselves or in various combinations . In all
societies there are certain individuals especially skilled at dealing with these
beings and powers and who assist other members of society in their ritual
activities. A body of myths rationalizes or explains the system in a manner
consistent with peoples experience in the world in which they live.
Every individual has a natural entitlement of religious faith and freedom of
conscience , a right to adopt or abandoned any faith of his own choice. In this
sense freedom of religion and freedom of conscience is fundamental right both
constitutionally and conventionally.
The freedom of religion and freedom of conscience has been recognized under the
international law. The General Assembly of united nations adopted without
dissenting vote on 10th December,1948 the Universal Declaration on Human Rights
recognizing fact that the entire humanity enjoys certain alienable rights which
constitute the foundation of freedom, justice and piece in the world.
In order to give effect to the Universal Declaration of human rights the members
of the united nations of also adopted the two conventions in 1966 in this
1. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
2. International covenant on Civil and Political rights.
The Government of India by its declaration dated 10.4.1979 had accepted
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the two international covenants with
certain reservations which do not cover the right to freedom of religion.
Apart from this the Constitution of India also enshrines the freedom of religion
and freedom of conscience as fundamental rights under Article 25,26,27,28,30.
Religious Conversion is multifaceted and multi dimensional phenomenon. Indian
society is a pluralist and heterogeneous society with multiplicity of races,
religious cultural, castes and languages etc. Religious Conversion has always
been a problematic issue in India. Every incident of conversion causes lot of
hue and cry in society; especially it causes nostalgic feelings to Hindu
organization because of its inherent socio- political. Rigid and Stringent caste
system prevailing in Hindu Religion is one of the most significant factors
behind the religious conversion. This is because of this caste system Dalits (
in most comprehensive and inclusive sense the word Dalit includes Untouchables,
Shudras and Adivasis) are the most susceptible section of the society to
religious conversion . The other causes of conversion are
1. Polygamy which is prevailing in Islam
2. To get rid of unwanted matrimonial ties.
3. To get reservation benefits.
Polygamy is a system wherein a male person his authorized to keep more than one
wife/wives where all the other wife/wives are still alive, or where a male
person is authorized to solemnize more than one marriage. Polygamy is just
opposite to the system of monogamy. In the past almost all the societies in the
world have been either polygamous or polyandrous. Monogamy was never a rule but
an exception. Amongst all the religions resourceful persons were allowed to keep
as many wives as he can afforded. But Islam has been exception to his general
rule. The Prophet Mohd. ( 571 AD-632 AD) the last messenger according to Quaran
laid down the principle for his followers that a person may keep as many as four
wives only and that too only in exceptional circumstances prevailing in those
days. The Prophet had allowed the followers of Islam to keep four wives at one
time because of the contemporary reasons. During the life of Prophet the Arabian
society was the society of innumerable tribal communities and war was constant
phenomenon of those days in Islam. Hundreds of wars were fought amongst those
tribals can themselves, sometimes in the name of Jehad, sometimes in the name of
religion, sometimes for the sake of established political hegemony. Only men were
allowed to participate in the wars and not the women. One of the obvious
consequences of these wars was that innumerable women became widows. One of the
most burning problem before the prophet was that how to manage the lives f these
destitute widows and the children. Nobody was there take care for these helpless
widows and children. So the prophet evolved out a workable solution of the
problem. He permitted the men that every man would keep as many as four wives
along with their children. So that no widow or child would die out hunger
starvation or illness. Through the system every widow and her children were
taken care of.
Here two important points are worth mentioning that:
1. The permission given by the prophet to keep more than one wives was not a
permanent prescription for all the times to come. But it was only a temporary
provision just to manage the cotemporary problems. Along with the provision of
keeping for wives the prophet imposed a mandatory conditions upon the persons who
might keep more that 1 wife that if a person keeps more than one wife he must
have an equal eye upon all the wives. That is the principle of equality which
was to be observed and not to discriminate on any grounds whatsoever.
2. Keeping more than one wife was not prescribed as general rule. But only an
exception and that is only to deal with the above mention contemporary problem.
But after the life of the profit, the Muslim leaders especially in India have
misinterpreted the dictates of the prophet in his concern and started receiving
undue advantage of this dictate of the prophet. Muslim religious leader and
Ulemas have maintained that the dictate of the prophet to keep four wives was
not a temporary provision rather it was a permanent dictate for all time to
come. This is how they have misconceived the dictates of the prophet and
justified and legitimized polygamy almost 1500 years after the life of the
It is significant to mention that the practice of polygamy has been abolished
even in the constitutionally declared Islamic states long ago but in India this
practice is still valid under the Muslim personal law. It is also pertinent to
mention that the practice of polygamy is anti feminist and it is discriminatory
against Muslims women because polygamy is a unilateral right provided only to
Muslim men. Therefore, it is suggested that the privilege of polygamy should not
be given Muslim community under their personal laws and uniform civil code is
the need of the hour.
The Impact Of Religious Conversion
The religious conversion into Islam by a person from non Islamic faith is not
valid if the conversion is done for the purpose of polygamy. Neither Islam nor
the law recognizing any such conversion in India. In the case of
Sarla Mudgal vs
Union of India4 a married Hindu male converted in to Islam for the sake of solemninising another marriage as polygamy is permitted in Islam. The Hon’ble SC
held that conversion in to another faith Ipso-facto does not dissolve the first
marriage because no one is allowed to take the benefit of his own wrong.
Moreover the court held that the married person converting into Islam is not
entitle to marry another woman after conversion. It was held to be an act of
bigamy prohibited U/S 17 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and punishable U/S 494 of
IPC and it was further observed that the second marriage is void.
In Vilayat Raj vs Smt. Sunita 5 it was observed by the court that if both the
parties to the marriage were Hindu at the time of marriage , pre-nupital law
i.e. Hindu Marriage Act applied even after conversion in Islam.
In Lilly Thomas vs Union of India 6 it was observed that an apostate husband is
guilty of bigamy U/S 494 of IPC if he marriage another woman after converting
into Islam. It was observed that holding such person guilty of bigamy is not
violation of freedom of religion U/Article 25 of the Constitution, hence,
Section 17 of H.M.A. 1955 is applicable.
From the above it is clear that after the pronouncement of the aforesaid
judicial verdicts, polygamy is no more a valued person for religious conversion
A person does not ceases to be Hindu nearly because he declares that he has no
faith in his religion. A person will not cease to be Hindu even if he does not
practice his religion till he does not renounces his religion or starts living
and behaving like an atheist or agnostic or starts eating beef or insulting God
or Goddesses. He does not ceases to be member of the religion even if he starts
expressing his faith in any other religion , he continuous to be a Hindu
Chandra Shekharan vs Kulundurivalu7
If a person converts from Hindu religion to Sikh , Budhism or Jainism he does
not cease to be Hindu since all these religions do not fall beyond the
definition of ‘Hindu’ in the relevant section of Hindu Marriage Act . He ceases
to be Hindu if he converts into Islam Christianity or Jews or Zoroastrain,
conversion into these religion is a ground for desolation of marriage for the
other spouse and not for the spouse who converts into any such religion ( U/S 13
Under Section 80 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 if the husband
gets converted into Non-Hindu faith wife is entitled to live Separately
without forfeiting her right of maintenance but if she herself also ceases to be
Hindu, she looses her claim of maintenance under the section, But she is
entitled under section 24 of H.M.A in 1955 for pedente-lite and permanent
Special Marriage Act 1954 reflects the true sprit of Indian Secularism as it is
in consonance with India ‘s heterogeneity and multiplicity of religious faith.
Conversion does not make any effect on matrimonial ties as the Act is the
secular legislations and itself contemplate inter caste and inter religious
The Indian Divorce Act, 1869- If the husband gets converted into non Christian
faith, wife is entitled for divorce but vice versa is not possible. If wife gets
converted into non Christian faith husband can not apply for divorce. NANG vs
Under Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 Section 4 says if a wife
renounces Islam, the marriage does not Ipso-facto dissolve unless the
circumstances warrant otherwise.
The picture is complete if we account for the fact that most of these laws are
aimed to keep the low caste Hindus within the fold of Hinduism. And so while law
prohibits conversion, 're-conversion' of low caste Hindus is permissible. If a low
caste Hindu who had converted to another faith or any of his descendants
reconverts to Hinduism, he might get back his original caste In Kailash Sonkar. 9
Major Events Of
Major events of conversion are not reported unless they are highlighted by media
or a hue and cry is made by Hindu Organization. Following are the major
incidents of religious conversion in post independence.
The Ist and the biggest mass conversion which the country has ever
witnessed, took placed on the 14th day of October 1956. Place Nagpur,
the city where the headquarter of Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh is situated. About
a half a million Dalits said good bye to Hinduism from their life and embraced
Budhism under the leadership of the greatest social reformer, the great
visionary and the prophet of Dalit emancipation Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
The significant event of religious conversion took place on Feb
19th 1981 at Meenakshipuram of Kanyakumari District in Tamil Nadu. Where 280
families got converted to Islam. All of these 280 families cited social reasons
behind their conversion. These reasons were persecution, ill treatment and
humiliation they constantly had to face at the hands of upper caste of Hindus
which made their lives miserable and worst than animals.
Dulina :- Another significant even t of religious conversion which created a lot
of hue and cry in the society took place at Gurgaon, Haryana 2002. This all had
happened after a very pathetic incident of burning Five Dalits Alive by a mob of
upper caste people in a police station at Dulina in Jhajjar District in Haryana.
Police remain silent spectator. Now nothing was left for the families of these
massacred Dalits to remain in such a violent and hatred preaching system of
faith, where in Dalit have no place. All the five families of massacred Dalits
got converted in to Buddhism at Rabidas Mandir, Gurgaon, Haryana on 28th October
2002 under the banner of All India Confederation of SC/ST organization and the
Lord Buddha club in the presence of famous film director, All India Christian
Council , Jamait Ulma-I Hind and in the presence of Media Persons.
Another dimension of this event of conversion is that after these event of
conversion all the Saffron Hindu Organizations rushed to these families and
threatened them to face dire consequences on account of the above said
conversion. Due to assaults and threats and under the pressure of these Hindu
Organization, ultimately, these sacred Dalit Families broke down and had to make
a public statement that we did not leave Hindu religion , we did not convert.
In July 2002 another incident of religious conversion took place Guntur distt.
Andhra Pardesh were 70 Dalits converted in to Christianity.
Delhi:- In the year 2002 Udit Raj the Chairman of All India Confederation of
SC/ST Organizations and the Lord Buddha Club give a national wide call for
conversion. This conversion ceremony was supposed to be performed at Ram Leela
Maidan of Delhi . Around one million Dalits were supposed to get convert into
The preparation regarding the conversion programme were on . This nation wide
call for the conversion got an unprecedented coverage in national and
international media. Dehydration to saffron Hindu organization regarding such a
massive programme of conversion, was oblivious. These organization resorted all
means to shut of the mouth of media , so that this call may not reach the public
at large. The Ram Leela Maidan , where the programme was supposed to be
organized , declared as prohibited area and Section 144 of Crpc was imposed in
and around the area, all borders of Delhi where from influx of Dalits, to take
Diksha, was possible were sealed. The Government was determined to ensure by
hook or by crook let the programme may not be organized. Finally, the organizer
had to change the spot for the proposed programme . The Government could not
succeed to curb the enthusiasm of dalits and ultimately more than 10,000 Dalits
succeeded to say good bye to Hinduism and embraced Buddhism.
Right to freedom of faith is not a conferred
right but a natural entitlement of every human being. In fact law does not
assign it but it asserts, protect and insurers its entitlement. Indian Society
has nourished and nurtured almost all the established religion of the world like
Hinduism , Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism etc. from it s time immemorial.
Article 25 incorporates right to practice, profess and propagation of faith not
only this , the Article guarantees the freedom of conscience. Right to possess
adopt abandoned faith is ascribed by a person since his birth. India is a
heterogeneous and pluralist society with multiplicity of faith and cultures.
India most fundamental code of governance. i.e. The constitution of India also
asserts, protects and ensures this right to all individuals irrespective of
their religions, under its various provisions especially Art. 25.
Every human being has a natural entitlement
of religious faith and freedom of conscience and right to adopt or abandon any
faith of his own choice. This being so , the freedom of conscience has been
recognized as a basic human right both constitutionally and conventionally.
The Constitution of India aims at securing
freedom of religion and freedom of
conscience under Article 25 ,26,27,28,30 and at the same time it seeks to create
a harmony among all religions. Being suitable to the pluralistic society and
historical lineage . Such freedom needs to continued. Any other policy will not
be unconstitutional but also extremely harmful and suffocative for the public.
It. However, need to be realized that an incessant process of transformation and
change is also going on as change is the rule of nature. The ideas , faith,
psyche, behavior and attitude of people have always been subject to change,
though, the factors of change are spatial and temporal. An important aspect with
respect to change of faith is the state of One’s awareness and ignorance. More
awareness and enlightenment does definitely have an impact on the thought, belief
and action of a person, faith and elements of conscience. Thus as regards
conscience , state of knowledge is itself under a constant process of change and
every human being is undergoing a metamorphosis of understanding with continuing
with continuing process of experience of life and learning . Therefore , it is
advisable to tie up someone to a particular faith for all the times.
But in Indian perspective , an aspect of
freedom of conscience which has attained a problematic dimension , is
the right to propagate faith. The
meaning of propagation is to promote , spread and publicize one’s relating to
his own faith for the edification of others. The term propagation implies
persuasion and exposition without any element of fraud, coercion and allurement.
The right to propagate one’s religion does not give a right to convert any other
person to one’s own religious faith. It may be pointed out that the right to
convert other person to one’s own religion is distinct from and individual right
to get convert to any other religion on his own choice. The later is
undisputedly is in conformity with the freedom of religion and freedom of
conscience under Article 25 of the constitution while the former is the subject
of long prevailing controversy with reference to propagation of faith.
Religious conversion has always been a very sensitive social issue not only
because of the reasons that it has psychological concerns of religious faith but
also because it has wider socio-legal and socio-political implications. It has
also been revealed by the recent incident of conversion in Haryana,
Madhya pardesh , Tamil Nadu, Gujarat , Orissa and in Delhi ( in Delhi according to
official sources around 20,000 dalits got converted in to Buddhism in the year
2002 under the nation a wide call for conversion by Udit Raj , the leader of
Justice party). On the one hand due to these recent incidents of conversion the
Hindu Safforn Organizations like R.S.S., V.H.P., Shiv Sena , Bajrang Dal. etc.
have made a lot of hub-bub and not only this Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the
former prime minister call for a nation wide debate on conversion
The legislative history relating to the issue of conversion in India underscores
the point that the authorities concerned were never favorably disposed towards
conversion. While British India had no anti-conversion laws, many Princely
States enacted anti-conversion legislation: the Raigarh State Conversion Act
1936, the Patna Freedom of Religion Act of 1942, the Sarguja State Apostasy Act
1945 and the Udaipur State Anti-Conversion Act 1946. Similar laws were enacted
in Bikaner, Jodhpur, Kalahandi and Kota and many more were specifically against
conversion to Christianity. In the post-independence era, Parliament took up for
consideration in 1954 the Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill
and later in 1960 the Backward Communities (Religious Protection) Bill, both of
which had to be dropped for lack of support. The proposed Freedom of Religion
Bill of 1979 was opposed by the Minorities Commission due to the Bill's evident
However, in 1967-68, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh enacted local laws called the
Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1967 and the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya
Adhiniyam 1968. Along similar lines, the Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion
Act, 1978 was enacted to provide for prohibition of conversion from one
religious faith to any other by use of force or inducement or by fraudulent
means and for matters connected therewith. The latest addition to this was the
Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Ordinance promulgated
by the Governor on October 5, 2002 and subsequently adopted by the State
Assembly. Each of these Acts provides definitions of `Government', `conversion',
`indigenous faith', `force', `fraud', `inducement' (and in the case of Arunachal,
that of `prescribed and religious faith'). These laws made forced conversion a
cognizable offence under sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code that
stipulate that malice and deliberate intention to hurt the sentiments of others
is a penal offence punishable by varying durations of imprisonment and fines.
As early as 1967, it became evident that the concern was not just with forced
conversion, but with conversion to any religion other than Hinduism and
especially Christianity and Islam. In the Orissa and Madhya Pradesh Acts, the
punishment was to be doubled if the offence had been committed in respect of a
minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe
Moreover, Jayalalitha government in Tamil Nadu has gone to the extent of
enacting ant-conversion legislation (Tamil Nadu prohibition of forcible
conversion ordinance 2003) to put a check on the incidence of religious
conversion. In April 2006 The Rajasthan Dharma Swatantrata (religious freedom)
Bill, introduced by the BJP government, was passed by a voice vote. The
Chattisgarh Government passed an anti-conversion bill in form of Chattisgarh
Religion Freedom (Amendment) Act, 2006 providing for a three-year jail term and
a fine of Rs.20,000 for those indulging in religious conversion by force or
allurement. The Madhya Pradesh Government also passed a controversial bill to
amend the state's Freedom of Religion Act of 1968 to prevent religious
conversion by force or allurement.
The contention of the Hindu organization is that most of the minority religious
organization, especially, Christian Missionaries are actively involved in the
activities of mass religious conversion in the name of social service. According
to them the target groups of these Christian missionaries are generally
illiterate and poor Dalits and Poor tribes.
On the other hand many dalit organizations and Dalit thinkers have perceived
these recurrent incidents of religious conversions as great events of Dalit
emancipation from the clutches of the vicious Hindu Caste System which is and
has been a constant stigma on the face of Indian society. According to them,
Hindu Caste System is founded on rigid and the stringent Caste hierarchy . Due
to this inhuman and hate worthy Caste system Dalits and Shudras (Untouchables)
have always been treated inhumanly, they have been subjugated, oppressed and
persecuted by the so called upper caste Hindus or Manu vadis in the name of
caste. Dalit thinkers also allege that Hindu Soceity could not make a adequate
reforms in Hindu religion during last more than 3000 years , so that a lower
caste Hindu could not live with human dignity in Hindu religion. According to
them majority of Dalits and shudras (untouchable) are illiterate deplorably
poverty stricken and living in sub- human conditions. They have been denied
basic human rights even after 59 years of independence, Moreover, in day today
life they often to face atrocities and exploitation at the hands of upper caste
Hindus in the name of caste. Hindu religion does not treat its all follower
alike, Hinduism discriminates against one segment of its followers vis-à-vis the
other and does not treat all of them equally. It has failed to provide social
dignity to dalit and shudras. Therefore, they think that it is better to kick
our such an obnoxious and suffocating religion from one’s life and to convert in
a religious which does not discriminate against them in the name of caste and
which given them equal treatment and dignified human life. That is why Dalits
and other progressive minds have supported the incidence of mass religious
conversion and consideration them to great events.
We can conclude from the above discussion that any protest against religious
conversion is always branded as persecution, because it is maintained that
people are not allowed to practice their religion, that their religious freedom
is curbed. The truth is entirely different. The other person also has the
freedom to practice his or her religion without interference. That is his/her
birthright. Religious freedom does not extent (sic) to having a planned
programme of conversion. Such a programme is to be construed as aggression
against the religious freedom of others.
Finally, as far as Hinduism is concerned, besides it being vindicated as a way
of life, efforts must be made to augment its role as a form of religion, that
is, Hinduism must be practiced as a religion that upholds the principles of
personal freedom, self-dignity, social equality and economic security. This will
reduce the chances of transgression by way of conversion in any manner.
Scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads and the Gita should gather larger
weight age and reach the necessary quarters for sufficient lobbying to match the
access and emotional respect gained by the Bible and the Koran. The image of a
Hindu will go up not by blaming others for conversion but by creating conditions
that will make conversion by and large unnecessary for the fellow members of his
1. The Complete Words of Vivekananda, (1),P. 127
2. Shri Aurobindo-The Life Divine , P. 699
3. Dr. Radhakrishnan-Religion and Society, P. 103
4. AIR 1995 SC
5. AIR 1983 SC
6. AIR 2000 SC
7. AIR 1963 SC 185
8. AIR 1924 , Rangoon , 263
9. (1984) 2 SCC 91