Report No. 235
Representations/views received and discussions thereon
15. Before we conclude the report by formulating the Commission's recommendations, we would like to consider the views expressed in the responses submitted by Kerala Law Academy Law College, Thiruvananthapuram, Revd. Archbishop of Bhopal, the Catholic Church Body of Madhya Pradesh and certain other Christian organizations/individuals of MP State.
15.1 The students and faculty of Kerala Law Academy, after intensive discussion submitted a report under the caption "Statutory vacuum for effectuating voluntary religious conversion". The report of Kerala Law Academy has stressed on the need to legislatively prescribe a noncumbersome procedure for effectuating religious conversion. It has been pointed out that declaration should be recognized in the statute as an effective means of conversion. Further, it was pointed out that the law should clearly define the scope and ambit of conversion ceremonies in effecting conversion. The absence of prescription of specific procedure, according to them, creates a legal vacuum in the area of religious conversion which is not in tune with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of conscience.
15.2 We have already adverted to some of these aspects. The Commission would like to reiterate that the declaration followed by confirmation should not by itself be treated as proof of conversion and secondly it would be highly inappropriate to prescribe by way of legislation the details of ceremonies and/or formalities to be gone through for the purpose of conversion or the manner in which by law the conversion has to be proved in a court of law. Nebulous prescriptions ought to be avoided. Further, the whole problem has to be viewed from the angle whether the conversion was bona fide or genuine.
The observance of the prescribed ceremony or the declaration of the convert cannot give sanctity to the alleged conversion, if the conversion is otherwise a 'sham' exercise or a pretence to achieve an ulterior objective or the result of force or allurement. Freedom of conscience is in no way infringed by adopting this approach. The Commission is, therefore, of the view that the filing of declaration or the proof of observance of certain rituals / ceremonies cannot, having regard to the essence of conversion, be treated as conclusive proof of conversion. But, the declaration followed by confirmation, as said earlier, serves as an important piece of evidence in support of conversion.
15.3 Coming to the responses sent by the Rev. Archbishop of Bhopal and the Christian Organizations of MP (which are almost on similar lines), the following is the summary of the representations: Cases are being registered against Christians on the allegation of effecting conversion by force or allurement and the fundamental organisations have also been disturbing the prayer meetings. Proper guidelines on the subject of religious conversions and reconversions will help avoiding conflicts. The law should be such as to respect the conscience of the individual. When the change of religion is a conscious choice of an individual based on his belief in God, the law cannot insist on obtaining the prior permission from the District Magistrate to change his or her religion. It is only after the conversion that it would be appropriate to send the intimation to the concerned officer of the Government.
15.4 Some of the points referred to above relate to the legal validity of certain provisions of the Freedom of Religion Act enacted by Madhya Pradesh Legislature and the alleged high-handed action by the police under the said Act and also the lawless acts of the people of certain groups opposed to Christanity. These complaints cannot be looked into by the Law Commission as it is not within the scope of the subject taken up for consideration. They raise larger issues regarding the constitutional validity of the provisions of the said enactment or distortions in applying the law or the alleged lawless acts of certain persons. These do not fall within the domain of the Commission's report.
15.5 As regards the other point raised, i.e. providing proper guidelines on the subject of conversions/re-conversions, this aspect has already been dealt with in the earlier paragraphs.