A legal opinion given by a justice of the Delhi High Court that conversion from one religion to another is perfectly lawful comes as a welcome development.
Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva gave his opinion during a hearing on 3 June that “conversion is not prohibited in law”.
“Every person has a right to choose and profess any religion of his/her choice,” he continued. “It is a constitutional right. If someone is forced to convert, then it’s different issue but to convert is a person’s prerogative.”
Justice Sachdeva based his opinion on India’s constitutional guarantee of freedom to “profess, practise and propagate religion” (Article 25 of the Constitution of India).
The court was hearing a petition to outlaw in the National Capital Territory (NCT) religious conversions obtained through intimidation, threats or deceit. A further hearing is scheduled for 25 July.
The NCT does not have an anti-conversion law. Eleven Indian states do have such laws – most recently Karnataka, which has issued a temporary anti-conversion ordinance under which a Christian couple is likely to be charged.
Anti-conversion legislation does have a legitimate purpose – to prohibit seeking converts through force, fraud or allurement – but extremists appear to see no difference between such underhand activities and genuine evangelism, missionary work and sharing of faith.
The danger therefore is that something as harmless as handing out a Gospel tract or leaflet, telling a non-Christian friend about the Lord Jesus, or freely choosing to follow Christ, is viewed as suspicious, dangerous and illegal.
Christians and other religious minorities are also vulnerable to false accusation. Justice Sachdeva and his colleague Justice Tushar Rao Gedela are to be praised for insisting on seeing hard evidence.
“Where are the statistics?” the judges asked. “How many conversions happened? Who is converted? You say mass conversion is happening. Where is the number?”
While the court has yet to make a final decision, and their decision will only be applicable to the NCT, these remarks are another welcome corrective from the Indian authorities to the narrative pushed by extremists within Indian society.