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The Review of Faith & International Affairs

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As a secular democracy, India’s constitution enshrines relatively robust safeguards for religious equality and freedom. Article 25 provides all citizens the right to “freely profess, practice, and propagate” religion, and avoids assigning to Hinduism any special role or explicit privilege (in contradistinction to the situation with Buddhism in Sri Lanka, for example). Moreover, the Indian government itself has not generally engaged in any systematic or flagrant way in the direct persecution or oppression of its religious minorities.

However, India’s religious minorities do face certain challenges. Among them are several legal and judicial issues. Judicial rulings in independent India have weakened the safeguards of the constitution in several ways, such as when, in the 1970s, the Supreme Court declared that the constitutional right of “propagation” did not include (or protect) the right to intentionally convert another. Similarly, half a dozen Indian states have now passed “Freedom of Religion” laws (called “anti-conversion” laws by their critics) that have been problematically and prejudicially implemented, as has a national anti-defamation law. Additionally, national laws securing reserved seats in Indian legislatures, civil service, and educational institutions for lower-caste Hindus (but not for lower-caste non-Hindus) provide implicit disincentives to lower-caste Hindus considering conversion. Finally, a weak and easily corrupted criminal justice system exacerbates many of these legal issues, and is frequently used by anti-minority actors who exploit the legal ambiguity with regard to religious freedoms in India to harry religious minorities with spurious charges or unlawful imprisonment, thereby undermining the protections that Indian law does afford religious minorities.


Article by Chad Bauman originally published by Taylor & Francis under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License.