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I wonder if they're teaching critical race theory in India?

May Brittney Griner might like to try her luck playing hoop over there?

India Tries to Police Religious Conversions

In some states, if you want to change faiths, you have to inform a magistrate in advance.

By Tunku Varadarajan

Feb. 23, 2023 6:10 pm ET

Most Americans know India is the largest democracy on earth, but fewer are aware that the country is, like the U.S., a federated union of states—28 of them. Policy makers in both countries tout democratic kinship as one reason why India and the U.S. are natural allies. Yet so different is India’s democracy from the liberty-oriented American variety that it can be hard to believe there’s any real kinship. To Americans who look closely enough, India will seem like a democracy that is frequently undemocratic, too often repressive of basic rights, particularly when faith or religion is involved.

An example presents itself next month when lawyers acting for a range of civil-rights groups will argue before the Supreme Court of India that laws passed by nine states to clamp down on religious conversion are unconstitutional. These anticonversion laws, risibly titled Freedom of Religion Acts, purport to prevent religious conversion when done by “force” or “fraud,” or by “allurement” or “inducement”—which includes a prohibition on winning converts by suggesting that conversion would please God. An evangelist who promises a convert a place in heaven risks having the conversion struck down as void.

Citizens who suspect that a “wrongful” conversion has taken place can file a complaint with the police. Astonishingly, the burden of proof “lies on the person who has caused the conversion”—to quote language, common to many of these laws, from the Karnataka state statute. Punishments include jail terms of up to five years.

Critics of the anticonversion laws argue that there are few verifiable instances of involuntary conversion in India, and that these statutes—enacted in 11 states, most of them ruled by the Hindu-chauvinist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—are intended to create a hostile environment for religious minorities. The most virulent of these laws were enacted between 2017 and 2022 in BJP-governed states, and the statutory “objects and reasons” appended to them justify the legislation by alleging that there is a problem of widespread wrongful conversion in India. The Uttarakhand state law notes “the presence of pseudo-social organizations with a hidden agenda to convert the vulnerable.”

But it’s nonsense to suggest such a trend. “Nobody has been able to say that mass conversions actually happen,” says Chander Uday Singh, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India who is representing Citizens for Justice and Peace, a human-rights organization. He points me to research conducted in 2021 by the Pew Research Center, which found that “religious conversion is rare in India; to the extent that it is occurring, Hindus gain as many people as they lose.” Yet so fevered is the BJP’s fear of conversions that the laws require anyone seeking to convert to inform a magistrate a month in advance of his intention to change faith and to give reasons for such change. The idea that government officials would evaluate whether someone has a “valid” reason for converting sounds obnoxious to the American constitutional ear.

Perhaps most startling, these laws seek to prohibit interfaith marriages done for “the sole purpose of conversion,” to quote from the Himachal Pradesh state’s 2019 Freedom of Religion Act. Again, a magistrate must be informed in advance. This gives anyone who wishes to stop the marriage a month in which to mobilize communal forces in opposition. And again, the burden of proof lies with the bride or groom to demonstrate that any change of faith is entirely voluntary. Mr. Singh describes this as “completely insane.” Americans, many of whom regard marriage as a particularly good reason for conversion, would agree.

This last provision is driven by fears in Hindu-extremist circles of a “love jihad,” by which Muslim men are thought to lure Hindu women into marriage in order to convert them to Islam and augment the numbers of Muslims in India. The Haryana state law refers to “several instances” of marriages done in order to “increase [the] strength” of a particular religion. Islam isn’t named but no one can be in any doubt. It is likely that few, if any, new interfaith marriages will be permitted in states that have anticonversion laws when the person converting to another religion is Hindu.

Mr. Singh believes the Supreme Court of India can strike these laws down as unconstitutional. On what grounds? “Privacy, personal autonomy, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and six different articles of the Indian Constitution.” “Yadda, yadda, yadda,” he adds in jest, to demonstrate how irrefutable his argument is.

But Mr. Singh isn’t altogether optimistic, citing a Hindi proverb. “Whoever has the big stick owns the buffalo.” Might is usually right in present-day India. Even before the Supreme Court.

Mr. Varadarajan, a Journal contributor, is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and at New York University Law School’s Classical Liberal Institute.

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