Anti-conversion laws passed by states government in India enable harassment, vigilante violence and discrimination against religious minorities, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has noted in a report.
“India’s state-level anti-conversion laws violate international human rights law’s protections for the right to freedom of religion or belief,” the report said. “They impermissibly limit and punish an individual’s right to convert and right to persuade or support another individual to convert voluntarily.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent American government agency that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion and makes policy suggestions to the White House.
The panel had published a report on anti-conversion laws in India on March 14.
In November, the panel had designated India, for the second time, as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating systematic violations of religious freedom.
Anti-conversion laws have been enacted by Bharatiya Janata Party governments in nine states including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, and Himachal Pradesh. The laws require prior permission to be obtained for religious conversions for marriage.
The states have either passed new anti-conversion laws or updated existing ones after 2017. The new versions of the laws put in place stricter punishments and newer grounds for restricting conversions, such as conversion “by marriage” – where a person who adopts another faith to enter into a marriage would be deemed to have been forcibly converted.
The law follows a campaign by the saffron party against interfaith marriages. The party describes such marriages as “love jihad,” a debunked Hindutva idea that Muslim men lure Hindu women into romantic relationships in order to convert them to Islam.
In its latest report, the United States panel noted that the anti-conversion laws have three common features – prohibitions on conversions, notice requirements, and burden-shifting provisions.
“Each of the three features is inconsistent with international human rights law’s protections for freedom of religion or belief,” it said. It added that repealing the laws would be necessary to comply with international human rights law and to prevent deterioration in the condition of religious freedom in India.