• In the year 2021, the UP Legislative Assembly passed this Act which replaced the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020 which was promulgated in November 2020.
  • The UP State Assembly cleared the ordinance on 24 November 2020 following which it was approved and signed by State Governor Anandiben Patel on 28 November 2020.
  • It is an anti-conversion law enacted by the Government of UP.
  • This Act provides for prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage.

Uttar Pradesh’s  Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021

  • UP anti-conversion law prohibits the religious conversion of a person by the use of “misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means”. 
    • Conversion by solemnization of marriage or relationship would also qualify as illegal conversion under the Act.
  • Section 4 of the law states that “Any aggrieved person” or their relatives can lodge an FIR for illegal conversion.
  • Punishment: The standard punishment is 1-5 years imprisonment, and a fine of at least Rs. 15,000.
    • If the victim is a woman, a minor or a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the punishment increases to 2-10 years with a fine of at least Rs. 25,000. 
    • In cases of mass conversion, the punishment becomes 3-10 years, and a fine of at least Rs. 50,000.
  • Process for Conversion: This requires the person converting to submit two declarations to the District Magistrate.
    • The first declaration must contain a statement that the individual wishes to convert their religion without any force, coercion, undue influence, or allurement. 
    • The Magistrate will then ensure that a police enquiry is conducted to determine the “real intention” of the religious conversion.
    • The second declaration will include details such as date of birth, permanent address, father/husband’s name, prior religion, religion to which the individual is converting, and the details of the conversion ceremony. 
    • After the second declaration is submitted, the District Magistrate will post a copy of it to the notice board, for the public to record objections to the conversion, if any.

Arguments in Favour of the Law

  • Prevention of Forced Conversions: The primary objective of the Act is to prevent forced conversions carried out through coercion, fraud, or allurement.
    • Such conversions often exploit vulnerable individuals, particularly women and members of marginalized communities, and the law is necessary to protect their rights and autonomy.
  • Preservation of Social Harmony: Regulating religious conversions helps to maintain social harmony and prevent tensions between different religious communities. 
  • Deterrence Against Conversion Rackets: The Act serves as a deterrent against conversion rackets and fraudulent religious organizations that exploit individuals for financial or other gains. 
  • Promotion of Religious Freedom with Responsibility: The Act is viewed as a balanced approach to safeguarding religious freedom while preventing abuses and ensuring that conversions are conducted ethically and transparently.
  • Backing from Public Opinion: The enactment of the law reflects the sentiments and concerns of a significant portion of the population in Uttar Pradesh, where issues related to religious conversions have been contentious.

Arguments Against the Law

  • Constitutional Concerns: The law violates fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, such as the right to freedom of religion and the right to privacy.
    • The state does not have the authority to regulate an individual’s choice of religion.
  • Ambiguity in Definitions: The Act has been criticized for its vague and ambiguous definitions of terms such as “coercion,” “fraud,” and “allurement,” which can lead to arbitrary interpretation and misuse by law enforcement agencies.
  • Impact on Interfaith Relationships: The law could be misused to target interfaith couples, particularly those involving Hindu-Muslim relationships, by accusing one party of converting the other through coercion or fraud.
  • Burden of Proof: The Act places the burden of proof on the accused, requiring them to prove that conversion was not done through coercion, fraud, or allurement.
    • This reversal of burden of proof is seen as unfair and against the principles of natural justice.
  • Social Polarization: The enactment of such laws has the potential to exacerbate social tensions and polarize communities along religious lines, leading to increased communal disharmony.

Way Ahead

  • Despite these challenges and criticisms, the Uttar Pradesh government has defended the law, arguing that it is necessary to prevent forced conversions and protect the rights of individuals to practice their religion freely. 
  • The ultimate resolution of these challenges may depend on judicial interpretation and potential amendments to the Act.
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