Act of faith: On Karnataka anti-conversion law

Karnataka should not pursue regressive legislation in the name of curbing conversion

It is true that the Supreme Court has held that the right to propagate religion does not include a right to convert, and that the state can frame laws to prevent conversion through fraud, force or inducement. However, in a pushback against using this legal position to enact laws to preclude inter-faith marriages and render the parties vulnerable to prosecution, the Gujarat High Court has stayed provisions of a State law that made conversion ‘by marriage’ an offence, pointing out that it placed in jeopardy all marriages of those between two different faiths. Regarding the prior notice requirement in the Karnataka Bill for individuals intending to convert, it must be noted that the Himachal Pradesh High Court struck down a similar provision in 2012, holding that asking someone to disclose plans to change one’s faith violates the right to keep one’s religious beliefs private and secret. Anti-conversion laws should target only forcible or fraudulent conversion and not be open to grave misuse; there is no place for provisions that allow family members and associates to complain to the police to interdict lawful marriages. Such laws will plunge society into regressive medievalism.

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