Christian leaders took up the case after the Rajasthan court on Dec. 14th last year passed general guidelines in restricting conversions. The court was hearing a habeas corpus petition regarding a Hindu girl who married a Muslim, presumably after changing her religion to Islam. The court directed, among other things, that a person desirous of changing religion should inform the district’s top government official, who would publicize it for a week. “Only after a week's time, anyone converting for purpose of marriage can do so,” said the court.
The state court’s guideline “infringes upon the fundamental rights of all persons” and violates provisions of the Indian constitution, said Christian leader A.C Michael, whose Alliance Defending Freedom organization was first to object in the Supreme Court. Laws restricting conversion, commonly called anti-conversion laws, are in force in at least eight of the country's 29 states but India has no national law banning or restricting conversion.
For Christians there cannot be forcible conversion. “The act of accepting any religious belief or doctrine is a private affair and is exercised only within a person’s conscience. The act of conversion is a personal act and does not require the state to be notified of such an act of conversion,” said Michael.
Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Catholic Secular Forum, has similar views and said the right to choose or even reject any religion is an individual’s own choice and the government cannot interfere.“Choosing faith is not a crime. The court in its order tried to restrict individual liberty and it conflicts with the idea of a secular state where freedom of religion is guaranteed in the constitution itself,” said Dias, adding that he is hopeful that such guidelines will be revoked by the Supreme Court soon.
Allen Brooks, spokesman for the Assam Christian Forum, told ucanews.com that the court has been given the power to make decisions by the constitution and hence it cannot undermine it.“The constitution of the country is very clear about this. The right to freedom is a very fundamental right of the people living in India. I hope the Supreme Court will reject the guidelines set for conversions by Rajasthan court,” said Brooks.
India’s federal Minister for Home Affairs Rajnath Singh in January openly objected to Christian missionary work."If somebody wants to accept a religion, he should do that. There should not be any objection to it. But if mass conversion starts happening and a lot of people start changing their religion, then it could be a matter of concern for any country," Singh said.
Hindus form 966 million or 80 percent of India's population of 1.3 billion. Muslims account for 172 million or 14 percent while Christians comprise 29 million or 2.3 percent. UCAN