Freedom of Religion

Author : Vipin Upadhyay

All religions, with their Gods, their Demi-Gods, and their Prophets, their Messiahs and their Saints, were created by the prejudiced fancy of men who had not attained the full development and full possession of their faculties.” Generally Speaking, Religion is s system of faith and worship of supernatural force which ordains regulates and controls the destiny of human kinds.

There is no universally acceptable definition as to what exactly “religion” is. There appears to be near unanimity that religion, generally, is a belief or faith in the existence of a Supernatural Being and the precepts which people follow for attaining salvation.
Religion may be regarded as belief and patterns of behaviours by which human try to deal with what they view as important problems that cannot be solved through the application of known technologies and techniques of organization. To overcome these limitations people turn to the manipulation of supernatural beings and powers.
Religion consists of various rituals, prayers, songs, dances, offerings and sacrifices, through which people try to manipulate supernatural beings and powers to their advantages. These being and power may consist of Gods and Goddesses, ancestral and other spirits or impersonal power either by themselves or in various combinations. In all societies there are certain individuals especially skilled at dealing with these beings and powers and who assist other members of society in their ritual activities. A body of myths rationalizes or explains the system in a manner consistent with peoples experience in the world in which they live.
Every individual has a natural entitlement of religious faith and freedom of conscience, a right to adopt or abandoned any faith of his own choice. In this sense freedom of religion and freedom of conscience is fundamental right both constitutionally and conventionally.
The freedom of religion and freedom of conscience has been recognized under the international law. The General Assembly of united nations adopted without dissenting vote on 10th December,1948 the Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognizing fact that the entire humanity enjoys certain alienable rights which constitute the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
The Government of India by its declaration on 10th of April, 1979 had accepted Universal Declaration of Human Rights with certain reservations which do not cover the right to freedom of religion. Apart from this the Constitution of India also enshrines the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as fundamental rights under Article 25, 26, 27, 28, 30.


Right to freedom of religion, covered in the Articles 25, 26, 27, 28, 30 of the Constitution, provides religious freedom to all citizens of India. The objective of this right is to sustain the principle of secularism in India. According to the Constitution, all religions are equal before the State and no religion shall be given preference over the other. Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice.
Religious communities can set up charitable institutions of their own. However, activities in such institutions which are not religious are performed according to the laws laid down by the government. Establishing a charitable institution can also be restricted in the interest of public order, morality and health.  No person shall be compelled to pay taxes for the promotion of a particular religion.  A State run institution cannot impart education that is pro-religion.  Also, nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any further law regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice, or providing for social welfare and reform.
The Constitution of India aims at securing freedom of religion and freedom of conscience under the above mentioned Articles and at the same time it seeks to create a harmony among all religions. Being suitable to the pluralistic society and historical lineage, such freedom needs to continue. Any other policy will not be unconstitutional but also extremely harmful and suffocative for the public. However, there is a need to be realized that an incessant process of transformation and change is also going on as change is the rule of nature. The ideas, faith, psyche, behaviour and attitude of people have always been subject to change, though, the factors of change are spatial and temporal. An important aspect with respect to change of faith is the state of One’s awareness and ignorance. More awareness and enlightenment does definitely have an impact on the thought, belief and action of a person, faith and elements of conscience. Thus as regards conscience , state of knowledge is itself under a constant process of change and every human being is undergoing a metamorphosis of understanding with continuing with continuing process of experience of life and learning . Therefore, it is advisable to tie up someone to a particular faith for all the times.
But in Indian perspective, an aspect of freedom of conscience which has attained a problematic dimension is the right to propagate faith. The meaning of propagation is to promote, spread and publicize one’s relating to one’s own faith for the edification of others. The term propagation implies persuasion and exposition without any element of fraud, coercion and allurement. The right to propagate one’s religion does not give a right to convert any other person to one’s own religious faith. It may be pointed out that the right to convert other person to one’s own religion is distinct from and individual right to get convert to any other religion on his own choice. The later is undisputedly is in conformity with the freedom of religion and freedom of conscience under Article 25 of the constitution while the former is the subject of long prevailing controversy with reference to propagation of faith.
India’s secular Constitution guarantees freedom of faith. The source of religious freedom in India is our civilisational and social ethos, which has respected and tolerated pluralism in matters of faith since time immemorial. Our ancient rishis said: “Ekam sat, viprah bahudha vadanti” (Truth is one, the wise interpret it differently.) Our Constitution-makers did not import the concept of religious freedom from Western democracies. They could not have, for the simple reason that the dominant religious establishments in these Western democracies—be it Britain, France, Spain, Portugal or Holland—had a scandalous record of respecting and guaranteeing the religious freedom of the peoples they colonised in Asia, Africa and America. How the church became an active accomplice in establishing the West’s imperialist rule in these three continents and, how, in the name of “civilising” the heathen races, millions were killed and untold atrocities committed to erase their indigenous spiritual and cultural heritage is a part of the dark history of mankind.
Religious Conversion is multifaceted and multi dimensional phenomenon. Indian society is a pluralist and heterogeneous society with multiplicity of races, religious cultural, castes and languages etc. Religious Conversion has always been a problematic issue in India. Every incident of conversion causes lot of hue and cry in society; especially it causes nostalgic feelings to Hindu organization because of its inherent socio- political. Rigid and Stringent caste system prevailing in Hindu Religion is one of the most significant factors behind the religious conversion. This is because of this caste system Dalits (in most comprehensive and inclusive sense the word Dalit includes Untouchables, Shudras and Adivasis) are the most susceptible section of the society to religious conversion.
The religious conversion into Islam by a person from non Islamic faith is not valid if the conversion is done for the purpose of polygamy. Neither Islam nor any other law recognizes any such conversion in India. In the case of Sarla Mudgal vs Union of India  a married Hindu male converted in to Islam for the sake of solemnising another marriage as polygamy is permitted in Islam. The Hon’ble SC held that conversion in to another faith Ipso-facto does not dissolve the first marriage because no one is allowed to take the benefit of his own wrong. Moreover the court held that the married person converting into Islam is not entitled to marry another woman after conversion. It was held to be an act of bigamy prohibited U/S 17 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and punishable U/S 494 of IPC and it was further observed that the second marriage is void.
In Vilayat Raj vs. Smt. Sunita  it was observed by the court that if both the parties to the marriage were Hindu at the time of marriage, pre-nuptial law i.e. Hindu Marriage Act applied even after conversion in Islam.
In Lilly Thomas vs. Union of India  it was observed that an apostate husband is guilty of bigamy U/S 494 of IPC if he marriage another woman after converting into Islam. It was observed that holding such person guilty of bigamy is not violation of freedom of religion U/Article 25 of the Constitution; hence, Section 17 of H.M.A. 1955 is applicable.
From the above it is clear that after the pronouncement of the aforesaid judicial verdicts, polygamy is no more a valued person for religious conversion into Islam.
A person does not cease to be Hindu nearly because he declares that he has no faith in his religion. A person will not cease to be Hindu even if he does not practice his religion till he does not renounces his religion or starts living and behaving like an atheist or agnostic or starts eating beef or insulting God or Goddesses. He does not cease to be member of the religion even if he starts expressing his faith in any other religion, he continuous to be a Hindu Chandra Shekharan vs. Kulundurivalu
If a person converts from Hindu religion to Sikh , Buddhism or Jainism he does not cease to be Hindu since all these religions do not fall beyond the definition of ‘Hindu’ in the relevant section of Hindu Marriage Act . He ceases to be Hindu if he converts into Islam Christianity or Jews or Zoroastrian, conversion into these religions is a ground for desolation of marriage for the other spouse and not for the spouse who converts into any such religion (U/S 13 H.M.A)
Under Section 80 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 if the husband gets converted into Non-Hindu faith wife is entitled to live Separately without forfeiting her right of maintenance but if she herself also ceases to be Hindu, she loses her claim of maintenance under the section, But she is entitled under section 24 of H.M.A in 1955 for pedente lite and permanent alimony.
Special Marriage Act 1954 reflects the true spirit of Indian Secularism as it is in consonance with India’s heterogeneity and multiplicity of religious faith. Conversion does not make any effect on matrimonial ties as the Act is the secular legislations and it contemplates inter caste and inter religious marriages.
The Indian Divorce Act, 1869- If the husband gets converted into non Christian faith, wife is entitled for divorce but vice versa is not possible. If wife gets converted into non Christian faith husband can not apply for divorce. NANG vs. LABYA
Under Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939 Section 4 says if a wife renounces Islam, the marriage does not Ipso-facto dissolve unless the circumstances warrant otherwise.
The picture is complete if we account for the fact that most of these laws are aimed to keep the low caste Hindus within the fold of Hinduism. And so while law prohibits conversion, ‘reconversion’ of low caste Hindus is permissible. If a low caste Hindu who had converted to another faith or any of his descendants reconverts to Hinduism, he might get back his original caste In Kailash Sonkar.
We can conclude from the above discussion that any protest against religious conversion is always branded as persecution, because it is maintained that people are not allowed to practice their religion, that their religious freedom is curbed. The truth is entirely different. The other person also has the freedom to practice his or her religion without interference. That is his/her birthright. Religious freedom does not extent (sic) to having a planned programme of conversion. Such a programme is to be construed as aggression against the religious freedom of others.
Finally, as far as Hinduism is concerned, besides it being vindicated as a way of life, efforts must be made to augment its role as a form of religion, that is, Hinduism must be practiced as a religion that upholds the principles of personal freedom, self-dignity, social equality and economic security. This will reduce the chances of transgression by way of conversion in any manner. Scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads and the Gita should gather larger weight age and reach the necessary quarters for sufficient lobbying to match the access and emotional respect gained by the Bible and the Koran. The image of a Hindu will go up not by blaming others for conversion but by creating conditions that will make conversion by and large unnecessary for the fellow members of his religion.

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