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PEOPLE ARE FREE TO CHOOSE RELIGION: SUPREME COURT

Context:

The Supreme Court said people are free to choose their own religion, even as it lashed out at a “very, very harmful kind” of “public interest” petition claiming there is mass religious conversion happening “by hook or by crook” across the country.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Fundamental Rights)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Highlights of the Recent Supreme Court Judgement
  2. What is Religious Conversion?
  3. Reasons for Religious Conversions
  4. What is “Love jihad”?
  5. Why do the state governments want to enact the law to curb it?
  6. Freedom of Religion in our Constitution
  7. Views of the Supreme Court on Marriage and Conversion

Highlights of the Recent Supreme Court Judgement

A person above 18 years can choose his/her religion as Article 25 of the Constitution provides for the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality and health.

Courts cannot sit in judgment of a person’s choice of religion or life partner.

Religious faith is a part of the fundamental right to privacy.

What is Religious Conversion?

  • Religious conversion has always been a very sensitive social issue not only because of the reasons that it has psychological concerns of religious faith but also because it has wider socio-legal and socio-political implications.
  • Religious conversion means adopting a new religion, a religion that is different from his previous religion or religion by his birth.

There are various reasons for which people convert to different religion:

  1. Conversion by free will or free choice
  2. Conversion due to change of beliefs
  3. Conversion for convenience
  4. Conversion due to marriage
  5. Conversion by force

Reasons for Religious Conversions

Religious Conversion is a multifaceted and multi-dimensional phenomenon. Indian society is a pluralist and heterogeneous society with the multiplicity of races, religions, cultures, castes and languages etc. Religious Conversion has always been a problematic issue in India.

The reasons for religious conversions in India can be–

  1. Rigid Hindu caste system
  2. Polygamy prevailing in Islam
  3. To get rid of matrimonial ties.
  4. To get reservation benefits.

What is “Love jihad”?

  • The term “love jihad” was first mentioned in around 2007 in Kerala and neighbouring Karnataka state, but it became part of the public discourse in 2009.
  • Love Jihad is an unsubstantiated campaign defined as an activity under which Muslim men target women belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love.

Why do the state governments want to enact the law to curb it?

  • The state governments have argued that it is the duty of the state to protect the dignity of women from the men, by concealing their identities and operating secretly.
  • The UP government referred to a recent order of the Allahabad High Court which said religious conversion for the sake of marriage is unacceptable.
  • The Allahabad court in its order in the Salamat Ansari-Priyanka Kharwar case (Allahabad HC) 2020, observed that conversion “just for the purpose of marriage”, and where the religious belief of the party involved is not a factor, is unacceptable.
  • The Allahabad High Court also ruled that the freedom to live with a person of one’s choice is intrinsic to the fundamental right to life and personal liberty under Article 21. Hence, the order recognised that our society rested on the foundations of individual dignity, that a person’s freedom is not conditional on the caste, creed or religion that her partner might claim to profess, and that every person had an equal dominion over their own senses of conscience.

Freedom of Religion in our Constitution

Right to freedom of faith is not a conferred right but a natural entitlement of every human being. In fact, the law does not assign it but it asserts, protect and insurers its entitlement. Indian Society has nourished and nurtured almost all the established religion of the world like Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism etc. from its time immemorial.

  1. Article 25: All persons are equally entitled to “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.” subject to public order, morality and health, and to the other fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
  2. Article 26: gives every religious group a right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage its affairs, properties as per the law. This guarantee is available to only Citizens of India and not to aliens.
  3. Article 27: This Article mandates that no citizen would be compelled by the state to pay any taxes for promotion or maintenance of particular religion or religious denomination.
  4. Article 28: This Article mandates that No religious instruction would be imparted in the state-funded educational institutions.

Views of the Supreme Court on Marriage and Conversion

  • According to the Supreme Court – the choice of a life partner, whether by marriage or outside it, is part of an individual’s “personhood and identity”.
  • India is a “free and democratic country” and any interference by the State in an adult’s right to love and marry has a “chilling effect” on freedoms.
  • The absolute right of an individual to choose a life partner is not in the least affected by matters of faith.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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