“Do a person require a certificate from an institution to declare that she had converted to another religion or not, for effecting changes in the Government records?” –The High Court of Kerala considered this issue, and answered it in negative, holding that there cannot be any insistence on production of certificate from any institution for declaration of conversion of religion.
The court was dealing with a writ petition filed by a lady, Aysha. She was born a Hindu, named Devaki. Her son is a medical doctor converted to Islam. Thereafter, she chose the path of her son and embraced the religion of Islam. She approached the government for notification of her change of name and change of religion. But her application was rejected stating that the she will have to produce a certificate issued by a recognized institute/organization declaring conversion to Islam. As per Government Orders issued on 30/10/2004 and 09/11/2004, the government had recognized two institutions for certifying conversion to Islam. They are Maunathul Islam Association, Ponnani, Malappuram, and Tarbiatul Islam Sabha, Kozhikode.
Aggrieved at the insistence to produce the certificate of conversion, Aysha filed the writ petition. Accepting her contentions, the court held that mere declaration of change of religion would be sufficient for the government to act upon such changes to be effected in the government records.
The Government cannot compel a person to affirm his change of religion, only through a particular mode via-a-via the certificate issued by the authorized organization. Freedom of practice of religion, as guaranteed under the Constitution is unrestricted by any qualification. The power of faith is something which one has inherently possessed in himself, Justice Muhamed Mustaque stated in the judgment.
It was further stated that the right to practice cannot be burdened with, based on the certificate issued by an organization or an institution. If the government order as such is implemented, a person who changes his faith would be at the mercy of such organization to declare his status of change of faith, the court observed.
At the same time, the court also clarified that if the government doubted the genuineness of the claim, it can make enquiries. But the insistence on production of certificate amount to a fetter on the freedom of religion. The court, however, did not strike down the government orders, and clarified that the orders will not be mandatory, but only directory.