India’s ‘Anti-conversion’ Laws, the ‘Right to Propagate’, and the Mainstreaming of Chauvinism

[Abstract] With the Gujarat High Court due to decide on Gujarat’s ‘anti-conversion’ law, the issue of conversions appears poised to re-enter the national agenda. It is being accompanied by vituperative public speech questioning the basis of India’s diversity and minorities. The ‘right to propagate’ religion has had a troubled career. There were voices in the Constituent Assembly which opposed it and imposed regulatory conditions upon it. After Independence, there have been two waves of anti-conversion laws; the first wave in the 1960s culminated in the landmark Stanislaus decision which treated conversions as a matter of public disorder, thereby legitimising the claim that minorities cause disharmony. In the second wave in the 2000s, conversions have been more heavily policed. When the Supreme Court examines the Gujarat statute, it will be a historic opportunity to overturn the Stanislaus decision and return pluralism and inclusiveness to the national imagination.

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