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ICC Note:

The High Court of Rajasthan has made a decision to allow public objection to stand in the way of the individual’s right to free religious conversion. According to the court’s decision, those seeking to change their religious must publicly post that intention for a week in which time the public is allowed to object. This public declaration will likely expose individuals seeking to change their religious to ridicule and likely persecution. Other states in India require individuals to seek permission to convert from one religion to another. Often, officials favor Hinduism over minority religions. 

12/21/2017 India (Firstpost) – Converting your religion and spiritual faith is a deeply personal decision that only you get to make, right? Wrong! The Rajasthan High Court has just turned religious conversion into a reality game show, where for the first time, the general public gets to call in and vote on your conversion. Okay not exactly, but really close.

On 15 December, the high court was hearing a case (which bears alarming likeness to that of Kerala’s Hadiya) about Arifa (nee Payal), who converted to Islam and married a Muslim man.

In hearing this case filed by Arifa’s brother, the high court took it upon itself to set some “guidelines” in order to change religions or have an interfaith marriage. Now, Rajasthanis who wish to convert need to put up their names on a government notice board, where it will remain for a week, and people will be allowed to file objections before “permission” is granted for the conversion.

The directive doesn’t specify who these people are, so it looks like anyone, from your mother to your sworn enemy to your ex-lover to a member of a religious extremist group, can file an objection to your conversion.

This isn’t the first barrier to free conversion we’ve seen in India, although it’s still pretty unique. Several states, such as Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, have tried with varying degrees of success to enact legislation (many of them audaciously named “Freedom of Religion” Bills) that aimed to check “forced” conversion. Many of these required people to intimate a government official of their decision to convert, and in Gujarat, to obtain permission too.

These legislations have had tumultuous legal journeys, with many of them having sections struck down by high courts, as in Himachal Pradesh, or by the president, as in the case of Madhya Pradesh’s first attempt, or repealed by the government itself, a la Tamil Nadu.

Significantly, while striking down sections of the concerned Bill, the Himachal Pradesh High Court opined, “A person not only has a right of conscience, the right of belief, the right to change his belief, but also has the right to keep his beliefs secret.” [emphasis ours]

So, the differences to note here are that even in previous instances of legislation dealing with forced conversion, the courts have been known to strike down legislation formed by the government requiring the prior intimation of a government official.

In Rajasthan, the high court has actually taken it upon itself to introduce a rule that goes beyond government officials, and brings the general public into your choice to convert, even in the absence of such a legislation by the government. (Rajasthan’s “anti-conversion Bill” is still awaiting the president’s approval).

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For interviews with William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected].