Legislation UpdatesStatutes/Bills/Ordinances

Governor of Madhya Pradesh promulgates the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020.

Purpose of this Ordinance

To provide freedom of religion by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any fraudulent means and for the matters connected therewith.

Prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to other religions [Section 3]

The said ordinance states that no person shall:

  • Convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person by use of misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion or marriage or by any other fraudulent means;
  • Abet or conspire such conversion

Complaint against conversion of religion [Section 4]

No police officer shall inquire or investigate except upon written complaint of a person converted in contravention of Section 3 above or his parents or siblings or with leave of the Court by any other person who is related by blood, marriage or adoption, guardianship or custodianship as may be applicable.

Punishment for contravention of provisions of Section 3 [Section 5]

Imprisonment for a term not less than one year but which may extend to 5 years and the person shall also be liable to not less than Rs 25,000 fine.

There are certain proviso clauses mentioned under the said Section.

Marriages performed with the intent to convert a person shall be null and void [Section 6]

Marriages performed in contravention of Section 3 shall be deemed to be null and void.

Jurisdiction of Court [Section 7]

To declare the marriage null and void, the petition shall be presented by any person mentioned in Section 4 before the family court or where a family court is not established, the Court having jurisdiction of a family court within the local limits wherein, —

  • The marriage was solemnized or
  • Respondent at the time of the presentation resides or
  • Either parties to the marriage last resided together or
  • Where the petitioner is residing on the date of presentation of the petition.

Inheritance Right [Section 8]

Child born out of a marriage performed in contravention of Section 3 will be legitimate and succession to the property by such child shall be regulated according to the law governing inheritance of the father.

Right to Maintenance [Section 9]

Woman whose marriage is declared null and void under Section 7, children born out of that marriage shall be entitled to maintenance.

Declaration before conversion of religion [Section 10]

Any person who desires to convert shall submit a declaration to that effect 60 days prior to such conversion to the District Magistrate stating his desire to convert without any force, coercion, undue influence or allurement.

Section 11 states the punishment for violation of provisions of Ordinance by an institution or organization.

Burden of Proof [Section 12]

Burden of Proof as to whether a conversion was not effected through misrepresentation, allurement, use of force, threat of force, undue influence, coercion or by marriage or any other fraudulent means done for the purpose of carrying out conversion lies on the accused.

Investigation [Section 14]

No police officer below the rank of sub-inspector of police shall investigate any offence registered under the ordinance.

Also Read:

Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion | Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 [Brief Explainer]

OP. ED.SCC Journal Section Archives

An incisive study concerning the religious freedom and right to conversion must necessarily begin with what is meant by religion and the contrariety of the perceptions as to the contours of the freedom, the extent of the restrictions on the right to change the religion.

There is no consensus as to the definition of religion. Etymologically, the expression religion is the combination of the two Latin expressions “re” meaning back and “ligare” meaning to bind.1 According to Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary religion means a belief binding the spiritual nature of man to a super natural being as involving a feeling of dependence and responsibility, together with the feelings and practices which naturally flow from such a belief.

Swami Vivekananda said:

“religion as it is generally taught all over the world, is said to be based upon faith and belief and in most cases consists only of different sects of theories and that is the reason why we find all religions quarrelling with one another. These theories are again based upon faith and belief”2.

According to sage Aurobindo, the quest of man for God is the foundation for religion and its essential function is “the search for God and the finding of God”3.

Sir Julian Huxley, a renowned Scientist who synthesized philosophy with science and religion, said that “religion is the product of a certain type of interaction between man and his environment.”

All the three great religions of our country — Hinduism, Islam and Christianity — recognize the existence of God. To Christians their religion is a system of faith and worship, to Muslims Islam is a way of life encompassing all aspects of life. Hinduism defies comparison with other religions. It is sui generis. The Supreme Court said: “… Unlike other religions, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet; it does not worship any one God; it does not subscribe any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more”4. Although the common understanding about Hinduism is that it is founded on pantheism, it was recognized that the belief in the Supreme being is the foundation on which the entire edifice of Hinduism rests. In the words of Dr Radhakrishnan the main aim of the Hindu faith is to permit image worship as a means to the development of the religious spirit, to the recognition of the Supreme who has His temple in all beings5

To read the full text of the article, click here.

Note: This article was first published in Practical Lawyer 2003 PL WebJour 19. It has been reproduced with the kind permission of Eastern Book Company.

* Former C.J. of High Court of H.P. It is an abridged version of the Alladi Memorial Lecture held at Hyderabad on 22-3-2003

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: A Division bench comprising of Hrishikesh Roy, Ag. C.J and A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar, J. while being seized of a civil writ petition challenging the practice of confessions by churches, held the same to be permissible as per rights guaranteed under Article 26 of the Constitution of India.

Petitioner, by virtue of his birth into a family that owes allegiance a respondent church, is a member of the said church and is obliged to adhere to the rituals and practices prescribed by it for attaining spiritual salvation. The sacrament of confession is one such ritual of the churches. The instant petition has been filed against apostolic churches (governed by Oriental Law) and Catholic churches (governed by Canon Law), averring that the practice of compulsory confession is unconstitutional, and making it a condition precedent for availing the spiritual and temporal rights by a Christian member of these churches violates their fundamental rights under Articles 21 and 25. It is contended that a member of the respondent churches, who does not turn up for confession lives in the apprehension of denial of spiritual and temporal needs. It is contended that the threat of undeclared sanction by church and isolation from society creates fear in the mind of members of these churches, thereby compelling a member to confess. Sin, being a private affair, a forced confession thereof amounts to deprivation of right to privacy and freedom guaranteed under Articles 21 and 25. In view of the aforesaid, petitioner prays for the continuance of his church membership without being forced to confess his sins.

The Court noted that Preamble to the Constitution and Article 25 grants liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and there is no compulsion on anyone to follow a particular mode of faith or worship. By expressing his disenchantment with the practice of confession, the petitioner had indicated that he did not want to adhere to the said ritual. However, he did not want to part with his membership since it would deprive him of certain privileges/ rights such as that of burial or baptism of his children. Though the court sympathized with the dilemma faced by the petitioner, it observed that his continuance as a member of the church was not on account of any compulsion. Just as he had a choice to embrace the religion or any facet of it, he has the choice to leave it for another. The court observed that Articles 25 and 26 guarantees freedom of religion and it is through the exercise of these very liberties that the petitioner had chosen to be and continued to be a member of the respondent church.

It was further held that respondent churches also had rights under Article 26 to manage their religious affairs and a declaration by Court that confession not be made a condition precedent, for the enjoyment of any spiritual and temporal rights as a member of the church, would amount to denial of the churches’ fundamental rights. The writ petition was dismissed observing that the petitioner’s predicament stemmed from his own uncertainty as to the path to be pursued for attaining spiritual salvation and such a dilemma could not be resolved through legal proceedings as there was no violation of any rights, whatsoever. [C.S. Chacko v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine Ker 3497, decided on 02-08-2018]