Buddhism Separate Religion, Need Admn Nod To Convert, Says Gujarat Govt Circular - Vibes Of India

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Buddhism Separate Religion, Need Admn Nod To Convert, Says Gujarat Govt Circular

| Updated: April 11, 2024 11:14

Buddhism is a separate religion and Hindus need permission to convert to Buddhism, said a Gujarat government circular citing the provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003.

The home department clarified that any conversions from Hinduism to Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism would require prior approval of the district magistrate concerned.

This comes following a government finding that saw applications seeking conversion to Buddhism were not being dealt with as per rules.

In Gujarat, every year, mostly Dalits have been seen converting en masse to Buddhism at events held on Dussehra and other festivals. The Gujarat Buddhist Academy (GBA) is one of the prominent organisations that holds such conversion events regularly in the state.

The circular stated that it has come to notice that offices of district magistrates are arbitrarily interpreting the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act. “…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,” it added.

“In cases where applications are filed seeking prior permission, concerned offices are disposing such applications 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 stated.

“It is possible that the replies given to applicants in sensitive subject like religious conversion without sufficient study of legal provisions can result in judicial litigations,” it added.

The circular mentioned that “with reference to Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, Buddhism will have to be considered a separate religion”. It added that as per the Act, the person who is getting another to convert from Hinduism to Budhhism/Sikhism/Jainism will have to take prior permission of the district magistrate in a prescribed format. Also, the person who is converting will have to inform the district magistrate in a prescribed format.

It further instructed the district magistrates to decide application of religious conversion after detailed study of the legal provisions and by following instructions issued by the state government time to time.

Secretary of GBA, Ramesh Banker, welcomed the circular. “This circular has made it clear that Buddhism is a separate religion and it has nothing to do with Hinduism. The 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.”

“In our conversion events, we have always followed procedure, taking prior permission of the concerned district magistrate by filling up a prescribed form,” he added.

The form has to be submitted to the district magistrate one month before the conversion event by the ‘dharmguru’ (religious head) under whom the conversion would take place. In the form, details of the person(s) to be converted are to be submitted, including name, address, community, whether they belong to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, marital status, occupation, monthly income, the time since when he is following the religion from which he is converting, reasons for conversion, venue and date of the conversion event and the name of the dharmguru who will perform the conversion, among others.

Banker said that in 2023, at least 2,000 people, mainly Dalits, converted to Buddhism. As per Census 2011 data, there are 30,483 Buddhists in Gujarat – 0.05 per cent of the state’s population. Buddhists in Gujarat have argued that the actual number of Buddhists is not reflected because Census officials record them as Hindus.

On October 25, last year, around 400 people converted to Buddhism in Ahmedabad. Similarly, in October 2022, around 900 people converted to Buddhism in Gir Somnath. The prominent Dalits from Gujarat who embraced Buddhism in the recent past include the victims of 2016 Una public flogging – Vashram Sarvaiya, Ramesh Sarvaiya and their family members.

The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act was brought by the government to check religious conversion through allurement, force or misrepresentation or any other fraudulent means. In 2021, the state government amended the Act prohibiting forcible religious conversion by marriage.

It has provisions like maximum punishment of up to 10 years in jail and fine up to Rs 5 lakh. The burden of proof lies on the accused and such matters are to be investigated by an officer not below the rank of deputy superintendent of police. The amended Act stands challenged before Gujarat High Court, where the matter is pending.

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