Anti-Conversion Legislation: Comparison of the UP Ordinance with other state laws

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On November 27, 2020, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated by the state government.  The Ordinance seeks to regulate religious conversions and prohibits certain types of religious conversions (including through marriages).  Few other states, including Haryana and Karnataka are also planning to introduce a similar law.  This blog post looks at existing anti-conversion laws in the country and compares the latest UP Ordinance with these laws.

Anti-conversion laws in India

The Constitution guarantees the freedom to profess, propagate, and practise religion, and allows all religious sections to manage their own affairs in matters of religion; subject to public order, morality, and health.  To date, there have been no central legislations restricting or regulating religious conversions. Further, in 2015, the Union Law Ministry stated that Parliament does not have the legislative competence to pass an anti-conversion legislation. However, it is to be noted that, since 1954, on multiple occasions, Private Member Bills have been introduced in (but never approved by) the Parliament, to regulate religious conversions. 

Over the years, several states have enacted ‘Freedom of Religion’ legislation to restrict religious conversions carried out by force, fraud, or inducements.  These are: (i) Odisha (1967), (ii) Madhya Pradesh (1968), (iii) Arunachal Pradesh (1978), (iv) Chhattisgarh (2000 and 2006), (v) Gujarat (2003), (vi) Himachal Pradesh (2006 and 2019), (vii) Jharkhand (2017), and (viii) Uttarakhand (2018). Additionally, the Himachal Pradesh (2019) and Uttarakhand legislations also declare a marriage to be void if it was done for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion, or vice-versa. Further, the states of Tamil Nadu (2002) and Rajasthan (2006 and 2008) had also passed similar legislation.  However, the Tamil Nadu legislation was repealed in 2006 (after protests by Christian minorities), while in case of Rajasthan, the bills did not receive the Governor’s and President’s assent respectively.  Please see Table 2 for a comparison of existing anti-conversion laws across the country.  

In November 2019, citing rising incidents of forced/fraudulent religious conversions, the Uttar Pradesh Law Commission recommended enacting a new law to regulate religious conversions. This led the state government to promulgate the recent Ordinance. We discuss the key features of the ordinance below. 

What does the UP Ordinance do?

The Ordinance defines conversion as renouncing one’s existing religion and adopting another religion. It prescribes a procedure for individuals seeking to undergo conversions (in the state of Uttar Pradesh) and declares all other forms of conversion (that violate the prescribed procedures) illegal.  

Procedure for conversion: The Ordinance requires individuals (seeking to convert) and religious convertors (who perform such conversions) to submit an advance declaration of the proposed religious conversion to the District Magistrate (DM).   The declarations have to be given with a notice of: (i) 60 days by the individual, and (ii) one month by the convertor. On receiving both the declarations, the DM is required to conduct a police enquiry into the intention, purpose, and cause of the proposed conversion.  

Once the conversion has taken place, within 60 days from the date of conversion, the converted person must submit a declaration (with various personal details) to the DM.  The DM will then publicly exhibit a copy of the declaration (till the conversion is confirmed) and record any objections to the conversion.  The converted person must then appear before the DM to establish his/her identity, within 21 days of sending the declaration, and confirm the contents of the declaration.  Violating any of these procedures will render the conversion illegal and void, and will attract punishment of: (i) imprisonment between six months and three years, and a fine of at least Rs 10,000 (for individuals seeking to convert), and (ii) imprisonment between one and five years, and a fine of at least Rs 25,000 (for convertors).

Prohibition on conversions: The Ordinance prohibits conversion of religion through means, such as: (i) force, misrepresentation, undue influence, and allurement, or (ii) fraud, or (iii) marriage.  It also prohibits a person from abetting, convincing, and conspiring to such conversions. The Ordinance assigns the burden of proof of the lawfulness of religious conversion to the persons causing or facilitating such conversions.  However, a person reconverting to his/her immediate previous religion is allowed.  

Marriages involving religious conversion: Under the Ordinance, a marriage is liable to be declared void if it was done for the sole purpose of unlawful conversion, or vice-versa.  However, a marriage involving religious conversion is permitted if the conversion is undergone as per the procedure laid down under the Ordinance. 

Punishment for unlawful conversions: The Ordinance provides for punishment for causing or facilitating unlawful religious conversion, as specified in Table 1.   Further, the accused will be liable to pay compensation of up to five lakh rupees to the victim of conversion.   Additionally, repeat offences will attract double the punishment specified for the respective offence.  All offences under the Ordinance are cognisable and non-bailable.  

Table 1: Punishments prescribed under the Ordinance for offences by individuals for causing/facilitating the conversion

Type of offence

Term of imprisonment

Fine amount

Mass conversion (conversion of two or more persons)

3-10 years

Rs 50,000 or more

Conversion of a minor, woman, or person belonging to SC or ST

2-10 years

Rs 25,000 or more

Any other conversion

1-5 years

Rs 15,000 or more

If any of the above three offences are committed by an organisation, the registration of the organisation is liable to be cancelled and grants or financial aid from the state government is liable to be discontinued.

Note: For Odisha, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand, some of the penalties have been specified in the Rules published under their respective Acts. For the rest of the states, the penalties have been specified in the respective Acts.