Lets be clear: The right to religion is not the right to convert
New Delhi, Dec 15: Karnataka is likely to introduce the anti-conversion Bill and it is expected to have penal provisions. The Bill would state that those who insisting on converting to another faith will have to file an application before the Deputy Commissioner two months prior.
"The anti-conversion law that we are bringing is not aimed at targeting any particular community. We are bringing it within the framework of the law. It is there in Article 25 of the Constitution that there cannot be forced conversions but there was no penal clause if such conversions take place," Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said, according to news agency PTI.
There is already opposition to the Bill from various quarters with people citing Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which professes the right to religion. However Article 25 also makes it amply clear that it is subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this part (III) all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion.
However the Supreme Court has on various occasions discussed the limitations placed on this freedom.
The Indian state is not permitted to interfere with the religious matters as such, but is empowered to regulate matters incidental to the religion or secular activities associated with religious practises.
Now the question is whether the right to propagate religion also means the right to convert. This is because the former is a fundamental right, but the latter is illegal if done forcibly.
In the Digyadarsan Rajendra Ramdasssji vs State of Andhra Pradesh the Supreme Court said that the right to propagate religion means the right to communicate a person's beliefs to another person.
However that would not include the right to convert another person to the former's faith. This makes it clear that propagating religion enjoys constitutional protection, but converting does not.
In the Rev Stanislaus vs State of Madhya Pradesh case, the Supreme Court held that it should be remembered that Article 25(1) guarantees 'freedom of conscience' to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of one particular religion and that, in turn, postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one's own religion. This is because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, as distinguished from his effort to transmit or spread the tenets of his religion that would impinge on the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike.
Hence, to conclude the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, but no where mentions the right to conversion.