From the beginning of civilization, religion has been considered as one of the important
components of social structure. It has been treated as norm provider to regulate the society
and life. When the legal machineries to regulate society were not been developed strongly, by
religious norms the life and social intercourse was governed. The concept of paap, punya,
salvation, jannat become gradually diluted and wants to secure maximum materialist pleasure
without having lesser fear of religion and God.
This nature of human behavior is gradually
precipitated in social intercourse. Now, man uses religion as a tool to secure materialist
pleasure. If a religion restricts human behavior strictly and does not allow him to avail
maximum pleasure, he relinquishes it and adopts another religion which may have such
facility. The conversion has an impact on society as whole. The set legal norms are also been
shaken by the process of conversion because legal norms were being set when the cases of
conversion had a limited effect on society.
Legal Implications Of Conversion In British India
Conversion has been considered as undesirable by Indian society from ancient period till
date. If a person converts himself to another religion, the society has no sympathy towards
him and barrier has always been created by the society so that it cannot be adopted by
majority of persons. The issue relating to conversion becomes complicated because majority
of the personal laws do not provide any space for the converts and their descendants.
Under the religious laws of all communities, conversion by a person to a different religion
would result in loss of family and succession rights. In the early years of the 19th century, the
British rulers decided to deactivate such provisions of personal laws, for which they had the
support of the Brahmo Samaj. In 1832, a Bengal Presidency Regulation proclaimed that:
laws of Hindu and Muslim religion shall not be permitted to operate to deprive such party or
parties of any property to which, but for the operation of such laws, they would have been
After the establishment of Central Legislature in 1833, the government decided to extend the
proclamation referred to above, in general terms, to the whole of British India. As among
various castes and sub-castes of the Hindu community, excommunication – expulsion of a
person from his or her caste by birth under orders of caste organizations – also resulted in the
loss of family and succession rights, the Brahmo Samaj leaders prompted the government to
also address this social evil under the newly proposed Central law. Eventually, a law for both
these purposes was enacted in 1850. It had, like several other laws of the time, no short title.
The Indian Short Titles Act of 1897 later titled it as the Caste Disabilities Removal Act.2
Provisions Of Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850
The Preamble of the Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850 reads,:
“Whereas it is enacted by
section 9, Regulation VII, 1832, of the Bengal Code, 3 that whenever in any civil suit the
parties to such suit may be of different persuasions, when one party shall be of the Hindu and
the other of the Muhammadan persuasion, or where one or more of the parties to the suit shall
not be either of the Muhammadan or Hindu persuasions the laws of those religions shall not
be permitted to operate to deprive such party or parties of any property to which, but for the
operation of such laws, they would have been entitled.”3
The preamble to this Act says that it was being enacted to extend the principle of Section 9 of
Regulation VII of 1832 to the rest of the Company's Indian possessions. The purpose of this
law was to preserve the inheritance rights of the converts in their ancestral property. The
new Act allowed Indians who converted from one religion to another religion, equal rights
under new law, especially on the case of inheritance.
Section 1 of the Act says:
“Law or usage which inflicts forfeiture of, or affects, rights on
change of religion or loss of caste to cease to be enforced -- So much of any law or usage
now in force within India as inflicts on any person forfeiture of rights or property, or may be
held in any way to impair or affect any right of inheritance, by reason of his or her
renouncing, or having been excluded from the communion of, any religion, or being deprived
of caste, shall cease to be enforced as law in any Court.”
4 Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850 (Act XXI of 1850)
No change of or exclusion from any religion, and no deprivation of caste, can in any way
effect or impair any right of inheritance. The provision had the effect of superseding the
contrary provisions of all religious, personal and customary laws under which persons who
converted to a religion other than their religion by birth were to be deprived of their family
and succession rights. It also superseded the rules of the traditional Hindu law under which
the customary excommunication from a caste or sub-caste would have a similar effect.5
- Gulab v. Mst. Ishar Kaur
In this case, the High Court of the N.W.P. has held in a judgment published as I.L.R. XI All.
100, that Act XXI of 1850 does not apply only to a person who has himself or herself
renounced his or her religion or been excluded from caste.
- Mahna v. Chand
In this case, it has been held that the latter part of Section 1 protects any person from having
any right of inheritance affected by reason of any person having renounced his religion or
having been excluded from caste. This applies to a case where a person born a Mohammedan,
his father having renounced the Hindu religion, claims by right of inheritance under the
Hindu Law a share in his- father's family. The Act XXI of 1850 was not intended to be
restricted only to the convert himself and that there is nothing in the language of Section 1 to
debar the extension of its beneficial provisions to the heir of the convert, no less to the
- Budhu Ram v. Mohammad Din
A case relating to Aroras of Dera Ghazi Khan District, it was held that the fact that some of
the sons had adopted Islam did not affect their right of succession.
In a case decided in 1888, the Allahabad High Court decided that the Act also covered the
descendants of persons changing their religion. The Madras High Court gave a contrary
decision in 1917, holding that only actual converts were protected by the Act. In an appeal
against a decision of the Chief Court of Oudh, which had followed the Madras
viewpoint, the 5
Privy Council upheld the Chief Court's decision. Since then, the law was that the Act of 1850
under reference was applicable only to persons changing religion and not to their children or
The object of Act XXI of 1850 is not to confer On any party the benefit of the provisions of
Hindu or Mohammedan Law, but to repeal and abrogate so much of the provisions of these
laws as by reason of change of religion deprives any party from continuing to hold property
held before conversion or from succeeding to property as an heir after conversion.
Other Principles Laid Down By The Courts
- Where a Hindu by birth became a convert to Christianity and it was found
that the family had severed all connection with Hindu society and in matters
relating to social intercourse, marriage and the similar usages abandoned
all caste distinction and had thoroughly identified themselves with the
members of the religion of their adoption, held, that no custom or usage in
conformity with Hindu Law was applicable and that the Indian Succession Act
afforded the rule of succession applicable to the case.
- The caste Disabilities Removal Act of 1850 secures to individuals the
same right in property after apostasy as they enjoyed before apostasy.
Therefore, the right of a minor son to sue for a declaration that a certain
mortgage deed executed by his father should not affect his rights as member
of the joint Hindu family after the death of his father is not taken away by
the fact of the son having embraced Islam.
- The conversion of a Khatri to Islam separates him from the joint, family, but he is
nevertheless entitled to his share in the co-parcenary ancestral property, if
claimed in time.
- The Act XXI of 1850 has the effect of abrogating the rule
of Mohammedan Law by which a non-Muslim is debarred from inheriting the
property of a Muslim.
- The conversion of a Hindu co-parcener to an alien faith such as Mohammedanism has
the effect of separating the convert ipso facto from the coparcenary.
- Conversion of a Christian to Islam does not deprive his Christian heirs
of a right of succession. • Conversion to Islam does not deprive a man of
the right to collateral succession.
The CDRA, 1850 provided that the convert to any religion would inherit as though he had not
converted, while the heirs to his property would be determined by the succession laws of his
new religion. It is not difficult to work out the consequences on inheritance of such a law.
The CDRA, 1850 has nothing whatever to do with the caste. It is indeed an early example of
double-speak. This act was clearly meant to facilitate conversion by protecting one's
temporal rights in this world while insuring one's place in the next.7 However, this Act has
now been repealed in 2018.
7 Vasudha Dhagamwar, Freedom of Religion, Vol. 38, No. 20, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4413578
- Tahir Mahmood, Repeal of Archaic Law doesn't affect Reforms, The Tribune https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/repeal-of-archaic-laws-doesnt-affect-reform-148141
- Supra, Note 1
- Supra, Note 1