UP Law Commission Recommends Anti-Conversion Law; Politically-Motivated Move, Say Civic Leaders
In the covering letter of the report, the law panel has addressed Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and approvingly mentioned ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign of his outfit Hindu Yuva Vahini.
Mumtaz Alam | India Tomorrow
NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 29— The Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission has recommended a law to check alleged forced conversions with a provision of one to seven years jail term. In its 290-page report to the state government, that carries a draft bill also, the commission has also recommended that if a conversion is done for the sole purpose of marriage, such marriage should be declared null and void. Eminent members of the civil society have termed the report as “a politically-motivated move” and an attempt to “push the agenda of Sangh Parivar”.
Justice (Retd.) Aditya Nath Mittal, Chairman of the UP Law Commission, submitted the “Eighth Report of VII State Law Commission on Freedom of Religion” to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Lucknow on November 21. The report also carries a draft bill “Uttar Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2019.”
After presenting the report to CM, Justice Mittal told media: “Indian Constitution has given freedom to exercise religion, but some agencies are misusing this freedom. They lure people into converting religion in the pretext of marriage, better jobs & lifestyle. We don't have any existing provisions to stop such conversions. That's why we have recommended new legislation to stop religious conversions.”
Interestingly, the commission has presented the report couple of weeks after Vishwa Hindu Parishad announced to launch campaign against conversions. Just after the Supreme Court verdict in favour of Ram Temple on the site of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on Nov 19, VHP had made the announcement.
Justifying the need for an anti-conversion law in UP, the commission has used some cuttings of news reports about alleged forced religious conversions. It has also mentioned anti-conversion laws in India’s neighbouring countries like Nepal, Myanmar, and Bhutan and some Indian states including Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jharkhand.
Key Points of Report:
Mentioning some provisions of the Indian Penal Code including Section 295, Section 295-A., Section 296 and Section 297, which deal with offences relating to injuring or defiling place of worship, deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs, disturbing religious assembly etc, the Law Commission says that such laws “do not deal with the specific acts of conversion from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage,” and so UP needs a specific law.
Targeting the Christian missionaries, the commission says: “It appears that in most of the cases of religious conversion, the allurement is the key ingredient. The Missionaries in India are providing gift, gratification, material benefit as well as allurement of free education in reputed school and better life style. Their main target is the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who are basically under privileged persons. In civilised society no religious body should be allowed to convert any person or a group of persons on the basis of allurement.”
The commission has also questioned inter-religious marriages and conversions for such marriages.
“Inter-religion marriages are also very common now-a-days but that also involves the conversion. If the conversion has been made voluntarily, there is no problem. But if the conversion is made by undue influence, coercion or force or by some fraudulent means or for some hidden agenda, certainly that should not be permissible…” reads the 290-page report.
The commission has recommended:
-- Enactment of a separate law to regulate the conversion as well as to control conversion at behest of fraud, inducement, allurement, coercion as well as conversion done for the sole purpose of marriage.
-- Total restriction on conversion from one religion to another by use or practice of allurement, misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, or by any fraudulent means or by marriage.
-- If a converted person intends to come back to his previous religion, such person must not be deemed to be guilty for conversion.
-- Minimum punishment of one year jail term which may extend to five years and also fine for a person who converts or attempts to convert any person from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, allurement etc.
-- Enhanced sentence of not less than two years which may extend to seven years and fine if converted person is a minor, a woman or a person belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
-- If a conversion done for sole purpose of marriage (whether before or after marriage), such marriage should be declared null and void.
-- For voluntary/free will conversion, one should follow a prescribed procedure so as to inform such conversion to the world at large as well as the society in which he or she is residing.
-- If an Institution or Organization violates the provisions of proposed Act, the registration of such organization or institution should be cancelled
-- Burden of proof should be on the person who caused conversion and where such conversion has been facilitated by any person, on such other person.
Law Commission Report Mentions ‘Ghar Wapsi’, Hindu Yuva Vahini
The report in English carries a covering letter in Hindi signed by Commission chairman Justice (Retd.) Aditya Nath Mittal. Addressing UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanth in the letter, Justice Mittal says: “The spirit of Sarva Dharma Sambhav is in the soil of India. But certain group, for their self-interest, through inducement to Hindus specially SC and ST people, are doing conversion and thus trying to obliterate centuries-old civilization stream of India by teaching disrespect to religious traditions and worship patterns to show the their religion.”
He also claimed that conversions were done at large scale during Mughal and British regimes.
“There is no doubt that in Mughal period and in British regime, conversions were done at large scale because rulers of the time would promote the conversions.”
In an apparent bid to get approval from Yogi for an anti-conversion law, Justice Mittal writes in the letter: “Sir, in your interview to Sharat Pradhan of rediff.com on Dec 13, 2014, while expressing your basic reactions on conversions, you had not only opposed conversion but also supported ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign for reconversion of those who were converted out of deceit, force or allurement and had proposed a specific law on this issue and had termed as completely correct the efforts of Hindu Yuva Vahini for ‘Ghar Wapsi’ in western and eastern UP.”
He ends the letter on this line: “Sir, after having been impressed by efforts of Akhand Bharat campaign and keeping in view opinions of different scholars, related conversion laws of pre and post-independence India and such laws in India’s neighbouring countries, deliberate lawlessness in society and decisions of SC and several HCs…the state law commission has prepared this report and wants a new law on this serious issue in UP also.”
Politically-Motivated Move, Say Christian Leader, Lawyer
Commenting on the UP Law Commission’s report for an anti-conversion law, members of civil society, including a Christian leader, a civil rights activist and a senior lawyer have said that the move appears to be politically-motivated. While Christian leader said he will challenge the law in court if it comes, the lawyer said some provisions of the proposed law would not withstand scrutiny of law in the court.
Talking to India Tomorrow, AC Michael, National Convenor, United Christian Forum, asked if there is any forced mass conversion in UP that the law commission had to recommend such a law.
“A law is always made when there is a demand and there is a situation when there is no law to take care of such scenario. Nirbhaya brutal gang-rape case of Delhi had led to a new law after recommendation by Verma Commission because it was a very strange and new case in nature. The first anti-conversion law came in Madhya Pradesh in 1967. Almost fifty years have passed since then. Ask them how many people have been convicted under this law? There was only one conviction of a pastor in the state, but later SC acquitted him of the charges,” said Michael
“Till today, not a single conviction on paper in any court of India to demand such a law. Where is the need for such a law? If conversions are happening, it may be happening, I have no doubt about it, but those are under the laws,” he said.
He also questioned the legal logic of the commission for an anti-conversion law.
“If any forceful conversion is happening there are already laws that can handle such cases. But they have defined the forced, fraudulent and allurement. How would you define allurement? A father was arrested in Bihar in early 2018 for serving a cup of tea and biscuits.”
The Christian leader said the UP law panel move is purely politically-motivated and he would challenge any such law in the court.
“It is purely politically motivated, such efforts are to appease vote bank of the majority community. BJP has always opposed minority appeasement but they are doing majority appeasement. We have challenged the Jharkhand anti-conversion law, the case is now in HC. We will challenge the UP law also if it comes. It discriminates against a particular religion just on the basis of religion. If infringes upon freedom of expression and freedom of the way you want to live,” said Michael.
Rajiv Yadav, general secretary of Lucknow-based civil rights group Rihai Manch, said the law panel has come up with the report just days after VHP made an announcement to launch campaign against conversion.
“It is just funny to say that minority is converting the majority. Not just funny, it is illogical too. Never has such thing been heard in the world. Anti-conversion campaign actually has long been the agenda of the Sangh Parivar. Recently, just day after the SC verdict on Ayodhya, Champat Rai, VP of VHP, had given a statement about such law and Ghar Wapsi and now the Law Commission has come up with this report. Does it mean that Sangh and VHP are now controlling the Law Commission also,” asked Yadav.
He further said: “The Law Commission report is politically-motivated and attempt to push the agenda of Sangh Parivar. Such law is a sort of attack on the constitutional protection given to all citizens to profess and preach religion of their choice. Isn’t it contradictory that on one hand they say Muslims are growing population by producing more and more children and on the other they say that they are converting people into their religion?
He insisted that the law panel report should not be taken in isolation.
“What the VHP said about launching the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign just day after Ayodhya verdict on Ram Temple is not accidental. Today also they said that to prevent conversion, they would launch a campaign to connect five lakh volunteers. They will hold meeting of workers of 19 districts. So the Law Commission report is not accidental, it is under the agenda of VHP,” said Yadav.
He also made an interesting point. “Before Ram Temple movement, there was anti-conversion campaign. After SC verdict on Ram Temple (which has now closed the chapter of Ayodhya movement), they are now resorting to their old issue again.”
Talking about the legal aspects of any such law, Senior Advocate of Allahabad High Court Syed Farman Ahmad Naqvi told India Tomorrow: “The question is how they will come to the conclusion that it is a forced conversion. Will it be done on the basis of a third person saying that it is a forced conversion, and not the person who got converted to some other religion? Who will decide which is forced conversion and which not?”
On the law panel’s recommendation to declare a marriage null and void if it relates to conversion, Adv. Naqvi said: “This is totally against the provisions of the Constitution itself. If such law is challenged in the court, it will not stand scrutiny of law. If such thing becomes law, then what will happen to Article 15 that allows people to adopt religion of their choice? Law is that any adult, man or woman, can marry any person, there is no barrier of religion.”
“If two persons marry of their own will and choice, they live together, then they get influenced by each other and one decides to adopt religion of other, who can stop them?”
The lawyer gave latest example of the Allahabad High Court order quashing an FIR lodged against a Muslim man for marrying a Hindu girl on the ground that both were adults and were free to marry out of their choice.
“A Hindu girl married with a Muslim man. An FIR was lodged by the parents of the girl. HC has quashed the FIR. Despite the argument of the parents that Muslims have four wives and tomorrow this man will leave my daughter, so at least give some protection of Rs 5 or 10 lakh, but HC rejected it also saying both are adults and both have married from their free will and we are not going to put any restrictions on it,” said Adv. Naqvi.
Such anti-conversion laws actually undermine the constitutional right that one can profess, practice and preach one’s religion, he added.
On the mention of Yogi and Hindu Yuva Vahini in the report, he said the law panel chairman has exceeded his mandate.
“Law Commission Chairman is a statutory authority. He should not have indulged in some petty political gimmicks. Whether Yogi was doing something in 2014 or not doing something in 2014 has nothing to do with the law commission and the chairman of law commission. Chairman of law commission should have confined himself to his report. While submitting his report he should have confined to his report not the conduct of the CM who has political affiliation. He has exceeded his powers. This act itself indicates that the entire report is politically motivated and it is not an independent report,” said Adv. Naqvi.