Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism separate from Hinduism; Gujarat govt asks Hindus to seek permission to convert

Circular issued by Gujarat Home department states Hindu's seeking conversion to Buddhism, Sikhism, or Jainism must seek permission from district magistrate under Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003.

Arshdeep kaur
Updated11 Apr 2024
Several Dalit Hindus in Gujarat convert to Buddhism at mass events every year
Several Dalit Hindus in Gujarat convert to Buddhism at mass events every year(Pixabay)

In a April 8 circular, the Gujarat government said it considers Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism "a separate religion" from Hinduism and has asked Hindu's seeking to convert to any these three to seek permission of the concerned district magistrate under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003.

Gujarat Home department issued the circular, signed by its Deputy Secretary Vijay Badheka, after it found that applications seeking conversion to Buddhism were not being dealt with as per the rules.

Several Dalit Hindus in Gujarat convert to Buddhism at mass events every year.

According to the circular, the Home Ministry noticed that district magistrate offices are "arbitrarily interpreting" the Gujarat's Religion Act. 

“…it has come to notice that in applications seeking permission for conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism, procedure as per rules are not being followed. Moreover, sometimes, representations are being received from applicants and autonomous bodies that for religious conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism, prior permission is not required,” the circular read.

It also said that in cases where applications for prior permission of conversion were filed, the offices disposed them while stating that "under Article 25(2) of the Constitution, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism are included within Hinduism and so the applicant is not required to take permission for (such) religious conversion”. 

The circular further stated that replying on “sensitive subject like religious conversion without sufficient study of legal provisions” may turn into judicial litigations. 

Invoking the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, the circular said that a person converting/or getting another person converted from Hinduism to Budhhism, Sikhism or Jainism will have to take prior permission of the district magistrate in a prescribed format. 

Also read: Lok Sabha Elections 2024: 5 explosive crisis factors in Gujarat BJP

The move has been welcomed by the Gujarat Buddhist Academy (GBA), a prominent organisations that hosts conversion events in the state.

Ramesh Banker, Secretary of GBA, told Indian Express (IE) that the circular has made it clear that Buddhism has nothing to do with Hinduism. 

He also said that the organistation always took prior permissions, but “confusion was created by (some in the) administration while misinterpreting the law”. 

"We believed from the beginning that Buddhism is not a part of Hinduism and for conversion to Buddhism, prior permission of the district magistrate is mandatory in a prescribed format. It was our demand (to issue such a clarification), which has been fulfilled,” Banker told IE.

Here's what the legal experts say about it: 

Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism are recognised as separate religions under the constitution, said Apeksha Lodha, Partner, Singhania & Co. 

However, Supreme Court's Advocate on Record Rishi Sehgal said as part of the wider Hindu community which has different sects, sub-sects, faiths, modes of worship and religious philosophies, Sikhs and Jains are recognised as sects and sub-sects of Hindu religion in statutes like the Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act. 

Talking to LiveMint, Apeksha said that Article 25 of the constitution allows all persons to have freedom to profess, practice and propagate any religion, and therefore converting to another religion by free will is legal in India. 

“No special permission is required to change religion in India. Everyone is free to change religion in India however the legal procedure is to be followed,” she said.

To which, Sehgal said states such as Gujarat have enacted anti conversion laws, to keep a check upon forcible conversion. 

“States, including, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand have enacted Anti conversion laws, to keep a check upon forcible conversion from one religion to another, with penal consequences,” he told LiveMint

Sehgal also said that no permission is required for conversion from Hinduism to Sikhism, Buddhism or Jainism. 

 

 

 

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