The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sorabjee joins conversion row

New Delhi, June 23 (PTI): Attorney-general Soli J. Sorabjee has criticised certain provisions of the anti-conversion laws enacted recently by Gujarat and Tamil Nadu as being against one’s right to privacy.

Sorabjee, however, agreed with the intent of the legislations, saying conversion by force or fraud should not be permitted.

“These state laws have the effect of deterring genuine conversions and impair the substance of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution,” Sorabjee said before his departure to London. “One’s religious belief is essentially a private matter as is conversion from one religion to another. It is a result of the deep-seated inner convictions.”

Maintaining that conversion by force, fraud or deceit could not be regarded as true and genuine, he said such conversions should not be permitted.

Without going into the constitutionality of the anti-conversion laws, Sorabjee said these laws tend to shake the confidence of the minority communities and accentuate their sense of insecurity. “These are unwise measures in the present Indian context.”

Sorabjee was particularly critical of the provision that required the person who wanted to convert a person from one religion to another to intimate the district magistrate about the proposed conversion in the prescribed form.

The Gujarat law even required the person so converted to send an intimation of his conversion to the district magistrate in the prescribed form. Failure to comply with these statutory provisions invited imprisonment and fine, Sorabjee said.

The attorney-general also criticised the 1977 Supreme Court judgment which held that the right to propagate one’s religion does not include the right to convert another person to one’s own religion. “This judgment has diluted the substance of the right to propagate one’s religion which was deliberately incorporated in the Constitution.”

Terming the Gujarat riots shameful, Sorabjee said “fortunately, these incidents did not take place in other parts of India”.

“Communal frenzy was contained. Gujarat was an aberration never to be repeated,” the attorney-general added.

Quoting from the apex court’s judgment in the Jehovah’s witnesses case, he said: “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our Constitution practises tolerance; let us not dilute it.”

In this case, the Supreme Court had held that refusal to sing the national anthem by children belonging to the Jehovah faith did not amount to disrespect to the national anthem as their religion did not permit them to join any ritual other than prayers to their god, Jehovah. Moreover, they respectfully stood up when the national anthem was sung, the court said.

Hailing the recent Supreme Court’s judgment on minority educational institutions, Sorabjee lamented that it has been left to the executive to decide whether the preference for admitting students of a particular community is reasonable or not.

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