How India’s Anti-Conversion Laws Deny Religious Freedom

Christians pray while others go to confession during prayer services on Good Friday April 10, 2009, in the village of Raikia, south of Bhubaneswar, India. |

India is famous Emperor Ashoka was a former convert from Hinduism to Buddhism. He demonstrated that a person is NOT forced by others to convert from one religion to another. Today, “religious conversions are forced” is the mistaken premise of all of India’s anti-conversion laws. Who could have forced the mighty Emperor Ashoka to change his religion? The Emperor’s famous religious conversion was his choice.

His achievements are recognized both inside and outside India. In his book, The outline of the story (1920), HG Wells wrote: “Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that fill the columns of history, their majesties and their graces and serenities and royal and other highnesses, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star. “

India is proud of its famous religious convert

The famous religious conversion of Emperor Ashoka, which took place around 2,400 years ago, is proudly recorded in Indian history books and is taught in all Indian schools.

Between 268 and 332 BC. After a victorious but bloody victory in the Kalinga (Odisha / Orissa) war in the year 260 BC. -violence or “ahimsa”. He didn’t stop there; he sent Buddhist monks in and around India to spread non-violence and Buddhism. He remains a much revered Indian ruler.

Legal Notice on India’s Anti-Conversion Laws

Mr. Alok Prassana Kumar, jurist, in his article “Myth and Rhetoric: Dissecting the Anti-Conversion Law“, appeared in the Indian newspaper Herald of the Deccan (December 19, 2021), posed this pertinent question to lawmakers aggressively pushing for anti-conversion laws in India: “Constitutionally, one can choose one’s religion or choose none at any time in one’s life. The Constitution does not say that one is free to practice only one’s religion of birth (or worse, one religion imposed by the state). So where are the “anti-conversion laws” such as the one currently being considered by Karnataka? [one of the Indian states] does the government integrate? “

He suggests that India’s anti-conversion laws make the Hindu-born religion a de facto state-imposed religion; such a mandate does not conform to the constitution of India because it does not have a state mandated religion.

Additionally, in the same article, Mr. Prassana Kumar addressed a false claim behind these anti-conversion laws – the claim of “forced conversions” is the imagined excuse for anti-conversion laws. He said: “Those who were allegedly ‘forcibly converted’, if any, were found to have converted voluntarily. Yet this claim is repeated vehemently and vigorously and is never substantiated. The new attempt is to expand it to include anyone who says their religion is better than others – a leap in logic which, if applied elsewhere, would make every advertiser a fraud and every politician guilty of a fraud. corrupt practice.

We must learn to look beyond this straw man of “forced conversions” who supports anti-conversion laws before we can truly understand the deeper cultural issues behind India’s anti-conversion laws.

How Anti-Conversion Laws Work

Krittivas Mukherjee noted this intrusive aspect of anti-conversion laws in the article, Indian Hindu outcasts convert to end social stigma: “Under some of the new laws, anyone considering leaving the Hindu fold must obtain certificates from officials and affidavits from the courts indicating that they are converting of their own free will and not by inducement.”

Thus, anti-conversion laws require that a converted Hindu report the details of their conversion to government officials, who are invariably upper caste elites or one of their supporters. This requirement of the Convert Act can be extremely intimidating for the new convert when they are a member of a non-elite, low caste, or outcast community. As expected, this requirement deters conversion and prevents the exercise of religious freedom for fear of the consequences of reporting their conversion to upper caste elites in positions of authority in the police and the judiciary, which are required by law. anti-conversion. to save each conversion.

Additionally, notice of conversion prior to decision / event is another requirement under Indian anti-conversion laws. Aneesha Mathur, in her article, “Anti-conversion laws in India: how states are dealing with religious conversions, “(India today, December 23, 2020) said: “In all other states [with anti-conversion laws], prior notice from the priest or “religious converter” as well as from the converted person is required. Uttar pradesh [one of the Indian states] has the more stringent provisions, requiring that a person wishing to undergo a conversion give 60 days notice to district officials. The priest is required to give the notice one month in advance.

Sadly, in some Indian states the constitutionally granted religious freedom for India has been twisted to require a “60 day notice” from the authorities before a Hindu can change his religion!

India is ruled by its elites

Consider the NBC News report, “Harvard adds caste prejudice protections for graduate students”(December 2, 2021), where Shakshi Venkatraman noted,“ Harvard University is the latest American school to add measures protecting caste-oppressed students… ”She explained, saying,“ Those who are born in the lower castes, known as Dalits in India’s deep-rooted hierarchies, have faced violence and oppression on the subcontinent for thousands of years.

India has always been ruled and controlled by its elites. The Hindu religion identifies who are the elites and who are not. Indian elites do not like the conversion of lower non-elite castes and outcast Hindus to other religions. Given their disproportionate influence on policymaking, elites enacted “anti-conversion laws” in ten Indian states to prevent disproportionate religious conversions of Hindus and non-elitist outcasts.

Anti-conversion laws only penalize those who leave Hinduism, their native religion. Thus, India’s anti-conversion laws are discriminatory by selectively hitting ONLY those who convert out of Hinduism.

An unconstitutional remedy for hurt feelings?

A legitimate question to ask Indians is: “Why does India selectively deny religious freedom constitutionally granted to its non-elite, low caste, or poor Hindu citizens?” “

At present, anti-conversion laws appease elitist Hindus, whose feelings are hurt because some Hindus convert to another religion – this is not a sufficient reason to take away the rights constitutionally granted to some Hindus, who want to leave the Hindu faith and adopt another faith such as the Christian faith.

Why do Hindus convert to the Christian faith?

Some of the converts to the Christian faith come from upper castes and privileged elites, but most are not. Poor, non-elitist Hindus who make up the lower castes or who are not part of the caste system tend to pay more attention to the claims of Jesus Christ in the Bible.

In the article, “Indian Hindu outcasts convert to end social stigma“(January 19, 2007), Krittivas Mukherjee writes:” The old caste system persisted in India – mainly in the villages – despite the country’s spectacular economic success and its exposure to Western culture … “Further, Mukherjee Note: “For millions of lower caste Hindus … a change in their faith is not so much a spiritual choice as it is a matter of dignity. Anti-conversion laws are meant to put an end to it.

What would Emperor Ashoka of India say today?

If Emperor Ashoka were to take life in India, he would be disappointed and embarrassed by the anti-conversion laws and the fear they arouse in Hindus, who voluntarily seek religious conversion.

In addition, Emperor Ashoka, promoter of nonviolence, could shed tears when seeing India appear on the annual Open Doors list, The 10 most dangerous places for Christians; India’s inclusion in this humiliating Top 10 list is in part attributed to India’s anti-conversion laws, which have contributed to violence against religious converts. The inclusion of India in this ignominious Top 10 amounts to a betrayal of its famous nonviolent emperor Ashoka.

India could get rid of its anti-conversion laws and very possibly get off this humiliating list.

Paul Swamidass, PhD, is Professor Emeritus, Harbert College of Business, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA. After three decades of teaching and publishing as a professor of business management at various universities, he retired from Auburn University in 2016. On occasion he teaches biblical leadership for Kerusso Institute for Global Leadership. His latest book is Bigger Things: The Qualifications of a Biblical Leader, Vide Press, 2020. He and his wife, Nimmi, worship at Redwood Chapel Community Church, Castro Valley, CA.