Religion and law

As clamour to ban conversion grows, a reminder: five Indian states have already done so

Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have set a dangerously illiberal precedent.

In a recent article on the First Post website titled "Is religious conversion really a fundamental right, or can we ban it? ", PhD student Jaideep Prabhu pitches for a “complete ban on proselytism and religious conversion”. “Religious liberty,” he contends, renders “Dharmic systems” unable to “compete as Abrahamic faiths do”. Further, Western-style secularism in which there is a “preference shown towards the competition of ideas is nothing short of a cultural invasion”.

That in the 21st century, someone might be arguing against the “competition of ideas” seems to me remarkable. Somewhat more absurdly, Prabhu is unaware that his wish was granted three decades ago by the Supreme Court of India, which held that religious conversion was not a fundamental right (Stanislaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh).

In fact, not only is religious conversion not a fundamental right, but in five states across India conversion is banned in all but name. In Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh the process of conversion is so regulated and policed that it is almost impossible to carry out.

A good example of the law at work was seen in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh, earlier this fortnight. Four Dalits converted to Islam as a reaction to the caste discrimination they faced. However, under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act (a suitably Orwellian name for a law that actually curbs religious freedom), a change of religion requires the permission of the state government. Not only were those four arrested, but Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists ensured that they were reconverted to Hinduism. A number of applications for religious conversion now lie with the state government, which refuses to act on them, even as right-wing organisations discuss punitive measures such as the destruction of standing crops and dispossession of land and other property for Dalits who dare to convert in the future. In Madhya Pradesh, it seems, conversions are banned if they take place away from Hinduism.

How this unfolded

There were no anti-conversion laws in British India. After Independence, the Lok Sabha debated two bills that sought to curb conversions, the Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill of 1954, and, six years later, the Backward Communities (Religious Protection) Bill. While both bills had wide support, Nehru, playing his usual role as the one-man vanguard of Indian liberalism, saw that both were eventually binned.

Predicting the repressions such laws could engender, Nehru argued that these laws, “will not help very much in suppressing the evil methods [of gaining converts], but might very well be the cause of great harassment to a large number of people. Also, we have to take into consideration that, however carefully you define these matters, you cannot find really proper phraseology for them. The major evils of coercion and deception can be dealt with under the general law. It may be difficult to obtain proof but so is it difficult to obtain proof in the case of many other offences, but to suggest that there should be a licensing system for propagating a faith is not proper. It would lead in its wake to the police having too large a power of interference.”

Foiled at the Centre, anti-conversion laws had greater success in the states. In 1967, Orissa, then ruled by the right-wing Swatantra Party, became the first state to enact a “Freedom of Religion” Law. Madhya Pradesh followed suit the next year, with Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh following with similar legislation. Chhattisgarh inherited Madhya Pradesh’s law when the state was partitioned. Arunachal Pradesh also has an anti-conversion law on its books, but since the rules for the act haven’t been framed, it remains a dead letter. The Rajasthan Assembly has already passed an anti-conversion bill that awaits the President’s assent to be made into law. Interestingly, the laws in Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh were promulgated by Congress governments, which shows how similarly the two big parties in India view this matter.

All these state laws are remarkably similar in scope. None of the laws directly ban conversion. Instead they ban conversions by means of “force, allurement, inducement or fraud” – but of course they leave these terms quite undefined, which gives the administration and its agents almost draconian powers.

Threat of divine displeasure

For example, “force” also includes the “threat of divine displeasure”. So, farcically, if a missionary informs a person that only Christians are allowed entry into heaven – a core part of the faith – that could also be construed as “force”. This interpretation of “force” was upheld by the Orissa High Court in Yulitha Hyde v. State of Orissa. It held that the "threat of divine displeasure numbs the mental faculty; more so of an undeveloped mind and the actions of such a person thereafter, are not free and according to conscience”.

That the Indian state believes it needs to take decisions because some of its people have “undeveloped minds” is symptomatic of much of the logic underwriting such legislation. Of course, all faiths offer carrots of reward and sticks of punishment. To lump these elements of a belief system under “force” is, to quote Pratap Bhanu Mehta, bizarre and shows that “anti-conversion legislation is illegitimately paternalistic”.

Again, “inducement” or “allurement” is defined broadly to include “the offer of any gift or gratification, either in cash or in kind and shall also include the grant of any benefit, either pecuniary or otherwise” (Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967). This problematic definition was even noted by the High Court of Orissa in Yulitha Hyde vs State of Orissa and called out for its extremely wide scope. For example, any charitable work carried out by a religious organisation could come under a “grant of benefit”, as would free education or healthcare. Unfortunately, in Stanislaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh (1977), the Supreme Court struck down the Orissa High Court’s ruling and upheld this vague definition.

Vague definitions

Matters reach a farcical crescendo when we come to “fraud”, however. None of the laws care to define fraud. In effect, under these acts, many religious tenets like “Adam was the first man on Earth” or “Noah saved every species on the planet” might legitimately be construed as “fraud”, since the speaker has no way of proving them in the material world.

Two of these acts – Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat – even require prior permission from the state government before a conversion takes place. So, if on one fine day, a resident of Ahmedabad, decided to, say, convert from Islam to Rastafarianism in the privacy of his home, but did not take the state government’s permission for this, as per the law of the land he could be imprisoned for up to three years. That Narendra Modi and Shivraj Chauhan think that citizens need the permission of the government in order to think their thoughts and adopt beliefs or ideas is an extremely disturbing development – one that strikes a particularly large nail into the coffin of Indian liberalism.

When these laws first came out in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, they were immediately challenged in the courts. Matters eventually reached the Supreme Court in 1977, where in the landmark case, Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the court held that conversion, per se, is not a fundamental right under Article 25 and can be regulated by the state.

A core belief

Conversion is often a core part of religion. In fact, in Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh, if the Supreme Court had consulted the Constituent Assembly records it would have found that “propagation” in Article 25 explicitly refers to the right to convert. An amendment to remove the word “propagation” was even defeated in the Assembly. In fact, restricting conversion not only violates the right to religion but also the right to free speech. Moreover, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ensures that a person’s right to religion also includes the “freedom to change his religion or belief“.

The state has no business policing the religious beliefs of its citizens; neither is it in a position to allow or disallow a change of faith if India is to be a liberal state.

Escaping persecution

Moreover, conversion is often an ennobling act, allowing individuals to escape persecution as well as acting as a reforming force for a religion as a whole. There is no better example of this than Ambedkar, who spent many years pushing Dalits to convert away from Hinduism. In a powerful speech to the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference in 1936, Ambedkar declared that, “religion is for man and not man for religion. For getting humane treatment, convert yourselves. Convert for getting organised. Convert for becoming strong. Convert for securing equality. Convert for getting liberty. Convert so that your domestic life should be happy."

Unsurprisingly, the Shivpuri conversions were driven by caste oppression. Vindicating Ambedkar, the “ghar vapsi” or reconversion ceremony was accompanied by promises from right-wing Hindu organisations that caste discrimination would end in the area. Across the world, laws and social conventions against apostasy exhibit a strong correlation with religious and social stagnation, as best illustrated in many parts of the Muslim world. For India to go down this path is alarming and, ultimately, foolish.

Finally, the fact that individuals can be legally tied down to their religion of birth and do not have the full freedom to make their own decisions is one in a long line of measures taken by the Indian state that treats the country as a conglomeration of communities and not of individuals. This is an extremely slippery slope to be on, one that the country must look to get out of.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and Logitech X300 Bluetooth Speaker at 58% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.