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Southern state rejects move for law against conversion in India

Tamil Nadu state said no case of forceful religious conversion was reported from any part of the state
A Catholic devotee kneels down in prayer in front of a statue of Jesus during a Good Friday procession at a beach in Chowara, a village of fishermen in India's Kerala state, on April 2, 2021

A Catholic devotee kneels down in prayer in front of a statue of Jesus during a Good Friday procession at a beach in Chowara, a village of fishermen in India's Kerala state, on April 2, 2021. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)

Published: May 01, 2023 11:11 AM GMT
Updated: May 02, 2023 02:00 AM GMT

The Tamil Nadu state in southern India has stood against a demand for a national law to check religious conversions saying that religious freedom is guaranteed in the Indian constitution.

The Indian constitution “guarantees every citizen the right to propagate his religion. Therefore, the acts of missionaries spreading Christianity by themselves cannot be seen as something against the law. But if their act of spreading their religion is against public order, morality and health and to other provisions of the constitution, it has to be viewed seriously,” the state said in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court on April 29.

The state’s affidavit came in reply to the top court asking all the Indian states to file their responses on a petition demanding legal measures, meaning a national-level anti-conversion law, to check what the petitioner called forceful religious conversion across the country.

Ashwini Upadhyay, a Delhi-based lawyer and leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), through a public interest litigation (PIL), sought a court direction to contain alleged forceful religious conversion, which he said was rampant across the country.

Based on some media reports and on digital evidence collected from social media, the petition also accused Christian missionaries of engaging in forceful religious conversions in several parts of India.

The petitioner also claimed the suicide of a girl student of a Catholic school in Tamil Nadu was the result of forceful religious conversion.

However, the Tamil Nadu government denied any case of forceful religious conversion in its history and asserted, “Every person has a right to propagate his or her religion.”

“The Constitution does not prevent any person from getting converted to the religion of his choice,” the state said adding that “people have a choice to change their beliefs and even return to their original religious denominations.”

Tamil Nadu also has not reported any case of conversion of the poor “by intimidation, threats, deceit, allurement through gifts, black magic or superstition.

The state government also disagreed with interfering in citizens’ choice of religion. “The citizens of the country should be allowed freely to choose their religion and it would not be appropriate for the government to put spokes in their personal beliefs and privacy.”

The government in the southern state is run by a regional party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or Dravidian Progressive Federation, which opposes Hindutva, the idea of establishing Hindu hegemony in the country.

United Christian Forum, an ecumenical body has lauded the Tamil Nadu government for upholding constitutional values in the right spirit.

The affidavit “has only reaffirmed the provisions of the constitution that guarantee every citizen of the country to propagate his or her religion,” said A. C. Michael, the forum’s national co-ordinator.

Ever since the first anti-conversion law was enacted in 1967 in Odisha state, 10 other states have enacted similar laws with stringent provisions. However, India still does not have a national anti-conversion law.

Despite all these efforts, “not a single person was convicted under these state laws anywhere in India,” Michael said.

He also wanted the top court to ask all states to furnish details of convictions under the anti-conversion laws and said it will prove false the claim of forceful religious conversion, mostly made by pro-Hindu leaders against Christians.

Michael, a former member of the Delhi state minority commission also said the “anti-conversion laws have been grossly misused to target Christians”. 

“Christians are incarcerated on the basis of false conversion cases and their prayer gatherings are disrupted terming them as religious conversion gatherings,” he said.

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Big salute to Tamilnadu Government.
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