Muslims Main Target Of UP Anti-Conversion Law, District Courts Refuse Bail, As Conspiracy Theory Becomes Law: Study

13 Oct 2023 25 min read  Share

Except one, all those accused of ‘love-jihad’ under UP’s two-year-old anti-conversion law were Muslim, jailed for 3 months to 1.7 years, with lower courts mostly refusing bail, according to a study of 22 first information reports over three months. All were consensual relationships, the FIRs filed when family’s found out or relationships went wrong. In 10 cases of mass conversions, even when there was no prima facie evidence of conversion, the accused spent between 11 days to 3 months in prison.

Bangalore: On 16 May 2023, a district court in the southwestern Uttar Pradesh (UP) city of Mahoba sentenced an autorickshaw driver named Munna Khan to five years imprisonment and a cumulative fine of Rs 97,000.

He was guilty, the judge said, under two sections of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act 2021 relating to conversion by misrepresentation or fraud, and four sections of the India Penal Code 1860 (IPC), including kidnapping, rape and criminal intimidation of a Hindu woman who was in a consensual relationship with him for four years.

The woman, who was 19 years old at the time they started their relationship and married a Hindu man later, lived 50 m from him, but alleged she did not know he was Muslim, until he started forcing her to offer namaz and eat goat meat. She also accused him of filming and photographing their physical encounters, which he used, she said, to “blackmail” her.

After he had spent about three months in prison, the Allahabad High Court on 11 June 2021 released Khan on bail, expressing its scepticism of the case against him.

“It is unswallowable proposition (sic) that in a small city, like Mahoba, she was not aware about the background of applicant or about his religion that too for four good years,” said Justice Rahul Chaturvedi, who added that she was “a wilful and active participant in all actions faced by her”, with her behaviour “clearly indicating” that she wanted to continue the relationship after marriage.

“The bail applicant and the victim were in a relationship for the last four years when there was no UP’s (sic) anti-conversion law,” Justice Chaturvedi observed. “All of a sudden, after the coming of this ordinance into existence, she got (sic) aware of her rights. Her mental thinking exposed her conduct.” Yet, Justice Chaturvedi said his observations should not be used as a precedent or prejudice the case against him.

A case similar to Khan’s unfolded in 2022 in Amroha when a Muslim factory worker named Afzal, alias “Armaan Kohli”, the name he allegedly used on Snapchat while talking to a Hindu girl, was sentenced to three years in prison under UP’s controversial anti-conversion law, the first such conviction.

Accused of kidnapping the minor girl and compelling her to marry, sexually harassing her, and forcing her to convert through misrepresentation and force, Afzal paid a fine of Rs 25,000 and was also convicted under the IPC and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences  (POCSO) Act, 2012.

11 Days To 3 Months In Jail, Without Prima Facie Evidence

Khan’s case was described in 34 first information reports (FIRs) I studied, filed in nine UP districts (Auraiya, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Shahajahanpur, Gorakhpur, Ayodhya and Mahoba) over three months, December 2022 to March 2023.

Of these 56% or 19 cases were related to a now-legitimised, data-free narrative of ‘love jihad’ (instances of interfaith marriage, conversion for marriage and kidnapping and the rest were related to mass conversions.

The key findings of the study:

- Out of the 34 incidents recorded, with more than 96 known and unknown people accused, a majority of 19 or 55.8% of incidents were related to accusations of love jihad .

- In all the so-called love jihad cases, the accused were Muslim and the complainants Hindu, except one where the accused was Hindu.

- There were a few incidents that could not be categorised where the Hindu family was forcing a Hindu woman to convert: a man had converted in 2010 but wanted to remain a Hindu; two had converted for money; and one man reported a girl “being brought” for conversion.

- In 10 cases of mass conversions, even when there was no prima facie evidence to show the accused were involved in conversion, they spent between 11 days to 3 months in prison. Scenarios in and wording of the FIRs were similar across different towns.

- In all the love jihad cases I studied, barring two, the accused only received bail from the Allahabad High Court, not the lower courts. The time they spent in prison ranged from 3 months to 1.7 years .

- In one case of love jihad, the district court granted bail when the accused had already spent 11 months, 14 days (almost a year) in jail. In  the  other case, the district court granted bail within 19 days as there was doubt about nikah and forced conversion.

- Most of the suspects came from poor families, which appeared to preclude good legal representation and likely lengthened jail terms.

- In two cases, the anti-conversion law was applied with retrospective effect.  In general, laws cannot be retrospectively applied 

Akram Akhtar Choudhary, a lawyer based in western UP and cofounder of a collective called Archive Against Humanity, helped me access the FIR copies. I then found some of them online and referred to the judgments from district court websites and through Indian Kanoon, a legal website.

This is the third and final part of a series that investigates how the UP anti-conversion law, which can be applied retrospectively, is being used. The first part reported how Hindutva groups were using the law to harass Christians, with the police filing FIRs that had no legal standing, and the second part reported how district court judges were giving bail because of poor investigations, the accused turned out to be Hindu, and FIRs were based on complaints by Hindu extremists, not the victims.

My study sought to analyse how courts were dealing with criminal cases under a law that legal experts have criticised as not just being violative of the Constitution but now legitimised as State policy—expressed through its submissions in an affidavit submitted to the Allahabad High Court—on forced conversions in interfaith relationships. 

The law, argued the BJP government of chief minister Yogi Adityanath, was for the “collective good”.  

“When there is fear psychosis spread in the community at large and the community itself is endangered and succumbs to the pressure resulting in forceful conversion… it becomes necessary that the interest of the community as a whole requires protection and no microanalysis of individual interest can be looked into,” said the affidavit. “Community interest will always prevail over the individual interest.” 

Love Jihad: Conspiracy Theory To Law

A term used by Hindu fundamentalists and even Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers and members of Parliament (here, here, here, here, here, and here), the term ‘love jihad’ is used to describe an alleged conspiracy by Muslim men using Hindu names to kidnap and forcibly convert Hindu women. 

These conspiracy theories, frequently dismissed by many government agencies, including the union government run by the BJP, the Supreme Court, the National Investigation Agency and the National Commission of Women, the last in response to right-to-information requests filed by Article 14 in 2021.

UP, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat (stayed in 2021 by the Gujarat High Court), Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, all governed by the BJP or in power when such legislation was promulgated, have criminalised conversion by marriage. 

As Article 14 reported in December 2020 and many have pointed out (here, here and here), Indian courts have repeatedly reaffirmed the constitutional right to choose a life partner, irrespective of religion, a fundamental right of consenting adults, intrinsic to the right to life, privacy and personal liberty (here, here, here, and here). 

In January 2023, the National Federation of Indian Women (NIFW) challenged the anti-conversion laws of eight states as being arbitrary, unconstitutional, and allowing State intrusion into private lives.

Mass Conversions

In 10 cases of mass conversion allegations, there were two kinds of narratives: first, a prayer meeting was organised during which books were distributed, and when the complainant refused to convert, the alleged proselytiser used abuse or force; second, that the accused offered gifts, such as money or free education, if complainants converted.

This narrative is also similar to illustrations provided by the UP government counter affidavit filed before the Allahabad High Court on 7 January 2021 in response to a public interest litigation challenging the anti-conversion ordinance. These supposedly provide an example of how a scheduled caste family converts to Christianity for “allurement” of employment and education, leading to mass conversion by the entire SC community in the area. 

“Here there is no freedom of choice but the choice has been obtained by certain allurement and the community where (after conversion) they are being received still looks upon them as a convert (sic) and there is no equality of status let alone freedom of conscience,” said the government affidavit.

There was one case, as I said, of the anti-conversion law being applied to a Hindu man who eloped and married a Muslim woman. Initially, only section 366 (kidnapping or abducting a woman to compel her to marry) of the IPC was applied. Anti-conversion law provisions were added later. On 27 January 2022, the Ayodhya district court granted bail, since the girl said that she converted on her free will.    

There was one instance where a Hindu husband and in-laws were allegedly forcing the girl to convert to Islam. 

Here are some of the cases I studied.

1. Fatehpur

FIR filed by: Jugesh Singh (person allegedly asked to convert)

The complainant says he saw the accused, Ramlal, speak about Christianity, distribute books and asked him to convert. When he did not agree, the accused abused and “forced him” to convert.

“…bina anumati ke kaafi sankhya me logo ko ikkhatha karke Isai dharm ka prachar prasar tatha Isai dharm apnane ke lie protsahit kar raha tha tatha Isai dharm se sambandhandit pustak bhi baant raha tha. Usne mujhe va mere sathio ko isai dharam apnane ke liye kaha to maine kaha ki hum log Hindu hain, Hindu dharm hi nibhaunga. Isi baat se naraz hokar hum logo ke sath gaali galauch bhi kiya  (they had collected many people without permission and were preaching Christianity, urging people to convert and they also distributed books related to Christianity. They also asked me and my friends to embrace Christianity, but I said we are Hindu, we would follow Hinduism. They were angry at this and started abusing us).”

Police Arrest: 14 January 2022

Bail: 10 February 2022 

Time spent in prison before bail: 1 month, 3 days  

What the judge said: “abhiyukta ka koi poorv apradhik itihas nahi hai aur na hi abhiyukt se Isai dharam se sambandhit pustakein bhi baramad kia gaya hai. (The accused neither has any criminal history nor were any books related to Christianity found in his possession).”

2. Fatehpur

FIR filed by: Rahul Vishwakarma (Bajrang Dal member)

“…bina anumati ke kaafi sankhya me jaha par lagbhag 20-30 mahilayein avam purush ko ikkhatha karke Dinesh Pal ke baramde ke bahar Isai dharm ka prachar prasar tatha Isai dharm apnane ke liye protsahit kar raha tha tatha Isai dharm se sambandhandit pustak Bible bhi baant raha tha aur kuch Bible apne paas bhi rakha tha. Usne mujhe va mere sathio ko isai dharam apnane ke liye kaha to maine kaha ki hum log Hindu hain, Hindu dharm hi nibhaunga. Isi baat se naraz hokar Ramnaresh va Sumer hum sabhi logo ke sath gaali galauch bhi kia aur jaan se marne ki dhamki bhi dia (without permission around 20-30 women and men were preaching Christianity outside Dinesh Pal’s verandah, urging people to convert and distributing a book related to Christianity, the Bible. They also asked me and my friends to embrace Christianity, but I said we are Hindu, we would follow Hinduism. They were angry at this and Ramnaresh and Sumer also started abusing and threatening to kill us.”

Police Arrest: 29 March 2022

Bail: 8 April 2022 

Time spent in prison before bail: 11 days 

What the judge said:  During the bail hearing in the district court, it emerged the suspect was a Hindu, 67, and poor. The police did not find any books related to Christianity.  “Considering the arguments advanced and other circumstances, the court without expressing an opinion (on the merits of the case), feels that it is a case  fit for bail.”  

3. Shahjahanpur

FIR filed by: Ramlakhan Verma (person asked to convert)

“...pichle raviwar va is raviwar… us makaan par pahuncha satsang me kareeb 15-20 vykati jinme mahilaye va bacche bhi shamil the. Mile Satsang ko David putra… chalate the… satsang me uprokt sab logo ne milkar meri gareebi ka faida uthakar hum logo ko naukri lagwane tatha bacho ko free me ache school me siksha dilane ka pralobhan dekar apna dharam chhod kar isai dharam ko sweekar karne ka prayas kar rahe hai. Maine unhe mana kia to mujh par tarah tarah se lalach aadi dekar dharam parivartan karne ko prerit kia… (I visited their prayer meeting last Sunday and this Sunday, where 15-20 people including women and children were present. David and others used to organise the event. They used to try  and exploit our poor status and allured us through job offers and free education in missionary schools. They are trying to convert us on this pretext. When I said no to converting, they tried to lure me to convert through different attractions).”

Police Arrest: unclear

Bail:  unclear 

Time spent in Prison before Bail: unclear

What the judge said: The police submitted the final report on 27 February 2021 (FIR was filed on 3 January 2021), saying no evidence was found against the accused. The complainant did not want to carry on with the case. The district court on 11 February 2023 said, “Sakshya ke abhav me antim report… samapt ki jati hai (due to lack of evidence, the final report is hereby closed).” 

4.  Gorakhpur

FIR filed by: Sanjay Mourya (an “aware” citizen)

Mah January me ye dono log kshetra ki janta ko nakad dhan, aish-o-aram ki zindagi, missionary schools me bachho ko nishulk siksha tatha rozgar, Daivya prasad ka pralobhan dekar manovaigyanik dabav tatha bhautik bal ka prayog karke samajh ke vyaktio ka mann Parivartan kar dharam Parivartan Hindu dharam se Christian dharam me karwa rahe hain… Jo log inke behkave me nahi aa rahe hain usko pralobhan dekar utprerit kar rhe hain… Yadi isko nahi roka gaya to samaj ke kaafi logo inke pralobhan, shadyantra ya behkave me aakar dharam Parivartan kar Christian ban jayegi jo desh hit me nahi hoga kyunki yeh log samajh me galat tareeka apnakar dharam Parivartan karwa rhe hain…(In the month of January, these two were offering people of the neighbourhood a life of luxury, free education in missionary schools and employment, offering divine blessings and putting mental pressure to influence them to convert from Hinduism to Christianity. Those who were not getting influenced were offered other things… If they are not stopped, then many people will get influenced and fall for their conspiracy and end up converting to Christianity, which will not be in the national interest because they are using wrong ways to convert people).” 

Police Arrest: 11 April 2022

Bail: 13 July 2022

Time spent in prison before bail: 3 months, 2 days

What the judge said: During the bail hearing on 25 April 2022, the accused, Keshav Singh Janwal, pointed out that he was a Hindu, had never aided religious conversion, offered “allurement” to convert and there were no records to show people had been converted. The court rejected the bail application. 

Lawyers for the accused then appealed the denial of bail in the Allahabad High Court, arguing again that the accused was not a Christian pastor but a Hindu. The court considered the fact that a co-accused was on bail.

“In the light of preceding discussion and without making any observation on the merit of the case, the instant bail application is allowed,” said Justice Subhash Vidyarthi. 

5. Gorakhpur

FIR filed by: Ranjan Sahani (person asked to convert)

“...pralobhan ka lalach dekar utprerit karte hue asambhe prabhav dalkar hum sabhi ko Hindu dharam se Isai dharam apne jane hetu baar baar keh raha tha. Poorv me hum logo ne mana kia hai lekin bah maan nahi raha hai. Jankari mili hai ki vah isi tarah lalach dekar kai logo ko Hindu dharam se Isai dharam me Parivartan kara raha hai (offering the lure of greed, they repeatedly pressurised us all to convert from Hinduism to Christianity. Initially, we refused but they still asked us to convert. We have been informed that they are using greed to get people to convert from Hinduism to Christianity).” 

Police Arrest: 17 December 2021

Bail: 13 January 2022

Time spent in prison before bail: 26 days

What the judge said: “Vivechna ke dauran… kis prakar ka pralobhan ya lalach abhiyukt dwara gramino ko di gai, iska koi ullekh nahi (during the arguments… what kind of lure or greed was offered, of this there is no proof).” 

Two other FIRs in Gorakhpur contained the same accusations: the accused urging people to convert to Christianity in exchange for free education and money.

The ‘Love Jihad’ Cases

The 19 love jihad cases I studied related to romantic, consensual relationships: the FIRs were filed when their families found out or the relationship went wrong. 

The main narrative in both cases was that a Muslim used a Hindu alias to “allure” the woman, so that she was eventually “forced” to convert; or  circumstances through romantic relationship or blackmail were created lead to forced conversion.

 In its 2021 counter affidavit, the state government said that if a Hindu woman wanted to marry a Muslim man, she would not get “full status” as a wife unless she converted to Islam. “This will amount to forceful conversion,” said the government.

The affidavit said this was true for a Hindu man marrying a Muslim woman as well, as “this is exercise of freedom of choice but there is loss of dignity and the conversion is not exercised as a choice but on account of compulsion due to personal law intervening”.  The suggestion: that Muslim personal laws were pushing Hindu women and men to convert. 

Here are some of the incidents I studied:

1. Mahoba

FIR filed by: Smt. Neelam (girl herself)

Munna Khan pichle 4 saal se uske peeche pada hai avam 4 saal se ashleel harkatein karta hai. Prarthiya ke sath jabran galat kaam bhi kia aur uski gandi tasverien va video bana liya hai… kehne laga ki chupchap dharam parivartan karlo nahi to tumhari gandi photo video viral kar dunga aur uske upar Hindu se Musalman banne ka dabav banana laga. Uski shaadi ke baad bhi uske phone par use dhamki dena shuru kar di aur kehne laga chup chap dharm parivartan karke mere pass aa jao. Prarthiya… ghar aai to Munna Khan uske ghar ke pass aaya aur… Urai me apni behen ke pass le gaya. Waha par usne uske sath galat karya kie aur usne aur uski behen ne use maar markar namaaz padhwai aur kehne laga chup chaap dharam parivartan kar le nahi to teri photo aur video viral kar dunga… Munna Khan ne Urai me uski behen ghar me lagatar balatkar kiya aur dharam parivartan karne ka zor diya (Munna Khan was after her for four years and for four years did these illicit activities. He recorded her illicit photos and videos… and asked her to convert. He said convert or I will make them viral… The accused harassed her for four years and recorded dirty videos and photos, which he used to blackmail her. He also said that if she did not convert from Hinduism to Islam, he would make them viral. He even contacted her after she got married and told her to convert and go to him. When she went back home, he kidnapped her and took her to Orai where he took her to his sister’s house, repeatedly raped her, his sister and he beat her and forced her to read namaz and convert).” 

Police Arrest: 5 March 2021

Bail: 11 June 2021

Time spent in prison before bail: 3 months, 6 days

 What the judge said: “Abhiyukt dwara kaarit apradh gambhir prakrati ka hai (the crime by the applicant is grave in nature),” the district court said on 16 March 2021 while rejecting bail. The defence pointed out that Khan and the woman celebrated festivals together.

 On 11 June 2021, the Allahabad High Court granted bail saying, “It is unswallowable proposition that in a small city, like Mahoba, she was not aware about the background of the applicant or about his religion that too for four good years… there is no recovery of any obscene still photograph or video, which is said to have been used for blackmailing, by the police during the course of investigation.”  

The high court said the police did not access call records to check conversations between the victim and the accused. 

2. Shahjahanpur

FIR filed by: Lakshmi Srivastava (victim)

“… Saayed pretended to be ‘Sunil’ and the two got close to each other. He then started to physically and mentally harass her and had a sexual relationship with her. He had sex with her at gunpoint and recorded the act. He also took money from her and after a point, she asked him to marry but he said that he is a Muslim and they would need to have a nikah. She said no to converting and he started beating her. After she refused to convert, his family came with a kazi and a nikahnama and asked her to sign it, to which she said no. The kazi asked him to rape her again and he did.”   

Police Arrest: 19 December 2020

Bail: 25 July 2022

Time spent in prison before bail: 1 year, 7 months, 6 days

What the judge said: “Peedita dwara abhiyukta par bandook dikhakar uske saath balatkar karne, uske ashleel photo banane tatha punah uske ghar me usse balatkar karne ka aroop hai. Mamla atyant gambheer prakrati ka hai (The victim has accused the applicant of raping her at gunpoint, taking illicit pictures and again raping her in her house. This is an an extremely serious issue,)” the district court said on 15 January 2021, rejecting bail. 

On 25 July 2022, the Allahabad High Court granted bail saying, “Prima facie satisfaction of the Court in support of the charge and reformative theory of punishment the applicant is entitled to be released on bail in this case… It is clarified that the observations, if any, made in this order are strictly confined to the disposal of this bail application and must not be construed to have any reflection on the ultimate merits of the case.”

3. Shaharanpur

FIR filed by: Aruna/ Praveen (victim)

Kai mulakat ke baad shah aalam va uske beech pyaar ho gaya aur Shah Aalam use behla fusla kar shaadi ka jhaansa dekar use Muradabad se Saharanpur laya aur uska Dharam Parivartan karwaya aur uske sath sharirik sambandh banaye aur baad me Shah Alam ne use shadi karne se mana kardia (After many meetings, Shah Aalam and the girl fell in love. He then lured her to get married and took her to Saharanpur from Moradabad and converted her and had a sexual relationship with her. Shah Alam then refused to marry her).” 

Police Arrest: 23 December 2021

Bail: 20 May 2022

Time spent in prison before bail: 4 months, 27 days

What the judge said: During bail arguments in the district court, the accused said that the complainant was a married woman and the incident was three years old. He had not hidden his religion from her. The district court rejected his bail application on 27 January 2022. “...prastut mamle me abhiyukt dwara peedita ko shadi ka jhaansa dekar, dhoke se uske sath shaaririk sambandh sthapit karne va peedita tha uske baccho ka dharam parivartan karana aur baad me peedita ke sath shaadi karne se mana karna bataya gaya hai. Abhiyukt ki oor se apne jamanat patra me peedita ke saath shareerik sambandh sthapit karne ke tathya ko inkaar nahi kia gaya hai. Abhiyukta dwara kaarit apradh gambhir prakrati ka hai (In the given matter, the applicant has been accused of sex on the pretext of marriage and conversion of religion of the victim woman and her children and refusal to marry. The applicant has not rejected the allegation of sexual relationship with the woman. These allegations are of a serious nature).”

On 20 May 2022, the Allahabad High Court granted bail. The alleged victim in her statement said had known the accused for the last seven years and they had a consensual physical relationship. The court held that, “prima facie satisfaction of the Court in support of the charge and reformative theory of punishment the applicant is entitled to be released on bail in this case… It is clarified that the observations, if any, made in this order are strictly confined to the disposal of this bail application and must not be construed to have any reflection on the ultimate merits of the case.”  

4. Firozabad

FIR filed by: Babloo Prajapati (girl’s father) 

Complaint: “... peedita umra kareeb 15 varsha beemar chal rahi thi, jiska ilaj karane ke liye dinank 6.6.2021 ko Saleem… ke yaha aaye. 3-4 din rehkar ilaj karwaya. Saleem… va Sapna Khan ne milkar kshadyantra ke teht vadi ki putri peedita ko Saleem ke sath behla fusla kar bhaga diya. Jab vadi in logo ke ghar jaakar poochne laga, to use marne peetne ki dhamki dete hue dhakke marke bhaga diya (The victim girl aged 15 years was unwell and on 6 June 2021 they came to Salim’s house for medical treatment, which took 3-4 days…  other family members conspired and made the two elope. When the girl’s father inquired about his daughter, they warned him that they would beat him up and insulted him and chased him away).”     

Police Arrest: 27 June 2021

Bail: 7 April 2022

Time spent in prison before bail: 9 months, 11 days

What the judge said: “Apradh ki gambhirta tatha mamle ke samast tathyo avam paristhitio ko drashtigat rakhte hue gun dosh par koi mat vyakt kiye bina abhiyukt zamanat pane ka adhikari nahi hai (Given the grave allegations and keeping in mind other circumstances, without expressing any opinion on the merits of the case, the applicant’s bail application is rejected),” said the district court judge.

On7 April 2022, the Allahabad High Court granted bail. “Nature of accusation and the severity of punishment in case of conviction and the nature of supporting evidence, prima facie satisfaction of the Court in support of the charge, reformative theory of punishment, and larger mandate of the Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the dictum of Apex Court in the case of Dataram Singh vs State of U.P. and another, reported in (2018) 2 SCC 22 and without expressing any opinion on the merit of the case, I find it to be a case of bail,” said Justice Vivek Kumar Singh.

Problems With UP’s Anti-Conversion Law

The FIR copies I studied show how the narratives in these cases, whether ‘love jihad’ or mass conversions, are similar. Mass conversion allegations are made not just against Christians or Muslims but Hindus too. 

Punishments for mass conversions range from three to 10 years and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000, and punishment for other unlawful conversions range from one to five years with a minimum fine of Rs 25,000.  With time spent in prison ranging from 11 days to 3 months for mass conversions, and 3 months to 1.7 years for ‘love jihad’ cases, it appears quite clear that interfaith relationships are more easily criminalised. 

In addition to the fine, section 5(2) of the anti-conversion law also requires the payment of “appropriate compensation” to the victim. With most victims from economically disadvantaged families, payment of such fines is difficult. 

Our study of the FIRs revealed that these laws have also been applied retrospectively, which cannot be done unless there is “a clear and manifest intention”, as Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat said in a 2021 judgment.

These consequences raise concerns about the violation of several constitutionally protected rights, such as Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution protecting the freedom of religion, including the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion. 

As Mohsin Alam Bhat, a law professor and member of Article 14’s editorial board, noted in a 2021 paper, the right to religious freedom includes prohibiting the State from “imposing substantive religious norms on individuals”. 

That means everyone is entitled to freedom of conscience and religion. The anti-stereotyping principle also notes that any regulation that affirms and pushes stereotypes against a class of citizens is unconstitutional for being discriminatory. 

In Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India 2018, the Supreme Court held that a law fails constitutional scrutiny when “it is grounded in and perpetuates stereotypes about a class”. Bhat also said that these laws are based on the stereotypes that women and minority communities need protection. 

The Constituent Assembly debates did not specifically forbid “forced” conversions.  In 1948, K M Munshi, a former UP governor who served on several constitutional committees, said the Christian “propagation” of their religion was a fundamental part of their faith. 

T T Krishnamachari, a former union minister and member of the constitution drafting committee who studied Christian institutions for 14 years, also said Christians should be allowed propagate and “to convert people, if he felt that it is a thing that he has to do and that is a thing for which he has been born and that is his duty towards his God and his community”. 

Urging someone to convert is protected under Article 25 of the Constitution, which protects the right to propagate the religion. 

The UP anti-conversion law furthers the conspiracy theories of ‘love jihad’ and ‘ghar wapisi’, (literally homecoming, a reference to reverse conversion) and denies the autonomy of women and their legal right to choose their own partner. “It is a result of stereotypical notion (sic) that women are ‘weaker’ partners in a marriage, lacking in capacity and competence when reinforced by statutes promoting gender stereotypes that are prejudicial…”, the NFIW said in its petition.  The  FIRs instead reveal assumptions that women are forced to convert. 

Under section 4 of the anti-conversion law, almost the entire family has been given the right to file a complaint in case of conversion to some other religion. In cases where the family files the FIR, the girl is alleged to have been “lured” by the accused, indicating again the lack of autonomy. 

Previous surveys to study conversions have revealed voluntary actions. In October 2021, the Chitradurga tahsildar (in Karnataka) found that over 50 families had converted of their own free will. The BJP government of the time transferred the tahsildar. In May 2023, the Tamil Nadu government in an affidavit before the Supreme Court said that there was no data to show any forced conversions in the state. 

This is the last of a three-part series. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

(Amrashaa Singh is a lawyer and researcher based in Bangalore.)

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