Addressing Coercive Conversion

Addressing Coercive Conversion


Coercive conversion is the illegal conversion of a person without his free consent from one religion to another religion in duress or by force or threat.[1] Some scholars have also termed it as Forced conversion and defined it as the adoption of a different religion or the adoption of irreligion under duress. Forced conversion, also known "Deprogramming," is a social issue that causes human rights violations by kidnapping and detaining the members of religious groups labeled as "cults" by their opponents in order to compel them to abandon their faith.[2] Forced conversion violates ones right to religious liberty.

Coercive or forced conversion is not new in Bangladesh. Many incidents of forced conversions took place in Bangladesh during the 1971 Liberation War, when both Pakistan army and members of auxiliary forces forced people to convert to Islam.[3] It is alleged that after independence of Bangladesh, in spite of being a secular State, the rights of religious minorities have been undermined.[4] A major allegation in this context is that members of minority communities, particularly women and girls, are coercively or forcibly converted to Islam.[5] There have been widely publicized cases in which social, psychological, and sometimes physical pressure is brought to bear on religious minority women to force them to convert from their religion and marry Muslims.[6] Along with women, vested interest groups engaged in forced or induced conversions have also targeted young children belonging to indigenous groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and other areas of Bangladesh.[7]

In this chapter, there will be discussion on-

International Laws for addressing coercive conversion

Present situation in Bangladesh regarding coercive conversion

Laws of Bangladesh addressing coercive conversion

Case Studies

Steps an activist or an advocate undertake to assist the victims of coercive conversion

Status in International Law

Forced Conversion Violates Human Rights and more specifically FORB and it is a problem that persist across the borders. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948, is a landmark document which protects individuals from forced or coercive conversion. 

SL No.

Recognition of Right to Education & Work in National Instruments



The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948

Article 18: ‘1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his / her religion or belief.’


the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right (ICCPR),1966

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right (ICCPR)states that ‘2. No one shall be subject to coercion that would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.’ This right is non-derogable, meaning that there is no justification, even in times of emergency, for the government to restrict this right.


General Comment no. 22 makes[8] it clear that Article 18 of the ICCPR involves the right to change religion and prohibits any coercion that would impair this right, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert. It also bans the restriction of education, medical care, employment or other human rights in order to induce a conversion.[9]

Present situation in Bangladesh regarding coercive conversion:

It is alleged by the Bangladesh Minority Council that in rural areas, pressure to convert to Islam is increasing every year.[10] In some cases, local authorities ignore such activities because they themselves believe that if they can convert a non-Muslim to Islam, then they will be rewarded after death.[11] This belief has caused an upsurge in the religious conversion of the minors of religious minority communities and sometimes even of entire families to Islam.[12] While in many cases someone who has been forced to convert to a different religion may continue, covertly, to adhere to the beliefs and practices, which were originally held, while outwardly behaving as a convert.[13] Critics argue that the purpose of forceful or induced conversion followed by marriage with the perpetrators can be identified as to ensure that the victims do not receive support of their communities, which leaves scope for the criminals to get away without punishment.[14] Gumaste asserts that the plan to coercively converting young girls, boys and women may be identified as a ploy to reduce the number of Hindu populace in the country.[15]

One of the main problems behind uprising of coercive conversion is lack of legal provisions to punish the perpetrators. Currently, coercive conversion is not defined as a crime in Bangladesh and for that reason, it is not possible for the law enforcing agencies to take any action against the perpetrators. After analyzing the case of Lakingme, among others, it can be assumed that coercive conversion is a combination of number of crimes, e.g., mischief, fraudulent representation, abduction, hurt and grievous hurt due to torture etc. In many cases like Lakingme, the victims of coercive conversions may be raped and murdered.

Case Study-1

Lakingme was in the seventh grade and had just turned 14 years and 10 months old on 5th January 2020 when she was abducted from her village home (Shilkhali Chakma Para) in Cox’s Bazar.[16] Five abductors (aged 22-28) led by a Bengali Muslim man, Ataullah (aged 23) of Cox’s Bazar, allegedly abducted her from her house. Lakingme’s mother and elder sister had gone to work in the betel leaf garden, and her father had gone to sea to fish. She was alone. Some children, including Lakingme’s younger brother (11 years old), were playing in the yard and witnessed the incident. A number of people who were attending afternoon prayers at a local Buddhist temple also witnessed the kidnapping as they heard cries from a three-wheeler coming from the direction of Lakingme’s house.

Lakingme was held by Ataullah in different places around Cox’s Bazar. On 11 January 2020, she was taken to Cumilla district where, on 21 January, she was forcibly converted and married to Ataullah at a registrar’s office, a false birth certificate being produced to show her age as 18. After 11 months and six days of abduction, on 9 December 2020, the police called Lakingme’s father to identify his daughter’s body in the Cox’s Bazar hospital morgue. Ataullah’s mother claimed that Lakingme had committed suicide by drinking poison. Allegations include that she was frequently tortured by Ataullah and forced to work as a sex worker. These gruesome occurrences led Lakingme to believe that she may not be accepted back into her family and society ever again. Even after identifying his daughter in the morgue, the police refused to hand over her body to the family on the grounds that she was married to one of her abductors, who had managed to fake a birth certificate showing her to be 18 years of age. Due to an unresolved issue concerning her religion and birth date, the dead body of Lakingme Chakma was held in the custody of Cox’s Bazar Police for 26 days (9 December 2020 – 4 January 2021). Finally, in pursuance of a court decision proving that she was a child and under 18, her body was finally handed over to her Chakma Buddhist parents on 4 January 2021. Lakingme had just given birth to a baby girl 13 days before she died. Following his daughter’s abduction, Lakingme’s father went to the nearby Teknaf Police Station to file a complaint. However, the Officer-in-Charge (Pradeep Kumar Das) refused to record the abduction case. At the suggestion of the Officer-in-Charge, her father filed a general diary but no action was taken. He therefore filed a case with the Cox’s Bazar Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal on 27 January 2020. On 15 December 2020, the Tribunal ordered RAB-15 (Rapid Action Battalion) to reopen the investigation. RAB-15 is now handling this case. Following the submission of their primary investigation report no. 5, the dead body was handed over to Lakingme’s parents.The Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) were negligent in their investigation of this case. If the Officer-in-Charge at Teknaf Police Station had recorded the case when Lakingme’s father reported it, it is believed she could have been rescued in time.To date, no-one has been held to account for the atrocities committed against Lakingme.Lakingme died at Ataullah's house on 9 December 2020. Till January 20, 2021 the police could not identify the reason of her death and the culprits were at large.[17] After January 20, 2021 the newspapers and electronic media forgot to report any development in her case.


Case Study- 2

Prapti (not her real name), a sixth grader from Gazipur’s Tongi area[18], was abducted on her way back from school on April 6, 2013. Law enforcers found her 55 days later at a hotel in Cox’s Bazaar. She had been raped repeatedly by some boys from her locality during the period. She was forced to convert her religion from Hinduism to Islam and marry one of the perpetrators, Rabiul Hossein Manik.

Young males or adolescent boys belonging to religious minority group are also victims to coercive conversion. The purpose of targeting them is same as the girls, i.e. to grab their property or to force their family to leave the country or to reduce the number of the religious minority people in the country[19]or from the perpetrators belief that such act would ensure him heaven in the life hereafter.

Case Study -3

Montu and Nantu are two sons of Govinda of a small village in Pirojpur. Ismail their neighbor and cleric of the local Mosque offered Govinda to sale his property adjacent to Ismail’s house. Govinda denied. Nantu, the youngest son, was in love with Jarina, the daughter of Ismail. At first, both Ismail and Govinda were against this relationship. However, when Govinda denied to sale his property, Ismail called for Nantu and proposed him that if he converts to Islam only then Jarina becomes his wife with the blessing of her father. Nantu being madly in love got converted. The family of Govinda was defamed in the Hindu society and for a couple of years they could not attend any religious festival. In the meantime, Ismail and Jarina both forced Nantu to claim his part of the property from Govinda, even though as per Hindu personal law, if a son convertshe cannot claim any of the ancestral property. Govinda again denied saying that his property belongs to Montu now. In rage and being intimidated by Ismail and Jarina, Nantu along with a number of fanatics attacked his parent’s house and put the house on fire and threaten to kill them all. Govinda after witnessing this suffered a stroke and his elder son brought him to Dhaka for treatment. Since then they are living in Dhaka, while their ancestral property is now enjoyed by Ismail.

Legal Framework:

As it is mentioned earlier that Bangladesh has no law to incriminate coercive or forced conversion and for that reason perpetrators cannot be punished. Uttar Pradesh, an Indian Province, has recently incriminated forced or coerced conversion through the enactment of Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020;[20] however, the validity of the ordinance is currently challenged in the High Court of Allahabad as being anti-constitutional.[21]In Bangladesh, generally the parents or close relatives as informants files an FIR in a police station alleging that their son / daughter is abducted and tortured and subsequently they are forced to convert. Then the police take the FIR for abduction and hurt or grievous hurt, as the case may be, since there is no provision which incriminates forced or coerced conversion. If the police does not take up the case, then the parents or relatives either files a complaint case before the judicial magistrate (metropolitan magistrate if the place of occurrence is within the metropolitan cities). The victim family can also file an application under section 491 of the Code of Criminal Procedure- 1898 (hereafter referred as CrPC) which is known as the power of habeas corpus, so that the High Court Division directs the police to bring the victim before it. For making an application under section 491, the petitioner will have to show that the police have been informed about the whereabouts of the victim, but they willfully or negligently failed to recover him / her and deliver him / her to the parents / relatives. After recovering the victim, he / she is produced before the High Court Division and if the victim wishes, he / she will be handed over to the parents / relatives. In a number of situations, the victims deny before the High Court Division saying that he / she got converted willingly. In these cases, if the alleged victim is a minor, then youth detention center or victim shelter homes, whichever is available in his / her district, get the custody of the victim. If the victim is an adult then generally they are released under their own custody.[22]

An activist or a  Freedom of Religion Believe (hereafter referred as FoRB) lawyer should advise and assist the parents / relatives in the aforesaid manner. When the victim is recovered then the parents / relatives may be advised to take him / her to the nearest one stop crisis center and report to the police immediately. Parents should be advised to save the clothes of the victim, if she is a female. One stop crisis center is the place where a doctor can take care of the victim’s trauma. An activist or a FoRB lawyer should be mindful about the psycho-social rehabilitation of the victim. The family should also go through a counseling session so that they do not traumatize the victim further. They should be encouraged to be supportive towards the victims of coercive conversion.[23]

Legal Remedies:

In the absence of any provision incriminating coercive conversion, a victim’s family can follow the following remedies:

  • The parents/relatives can file a FIR or a complaint under relevant sections of the Penal Code 1860, i.e., section 363 (punishment for kidnapping), section 366 (kidnapping or abducting or inducing woman to marriage), section 366A (procuration of minor girls), 367 (kidnapping or abducting in order to subject person to grievous hurt, slavery etc.) and 368 (wrongfully concealing or keeping in confinement, kidnapped or abducted person).
  • The parents/relatives can file an application under section 491 of CrPC or a writ petition of habeas corpus under Article 102 of the Constitution for producing the victim before the High Court Division.
  • After recovering the victim, referring him /her to one stop crisis centre.
  • Advocating for criminalizing forced / coercive conversion.


Arunima, a seventh grader from Konoha’s leaf area, was abducted on her way back from school on November 8, 2019. Law enforcers found her 55 days later at a hotel in Cox’s Bazaar. She had been raped repeatedly by someboys from her locality during the period. She was forced to convert her religion from Hinduism to Islamand marry one of the perpetrators, Jehan Hossain Hashem. Now, Arunima’s father Manik Das wants remedy.

Suppose, you are an activist/a lawyer. Now-

  • How will you, as an activist, assist Mr. Das?
  • How will you, as an activist, assist the whole community regarding this matter?

Outcome of this Chapter: 

SL No.



Gathering knowledge about present situation in Bangladesh regarding coercive conversion


Gathering knowledge about Laws of Bangladesh addressing coercive conversion


Gathering knowledge about International Laws for addressing coercive conversion


Identifying legal issues in Case Studies


Gathering knowledge Steps an activist or an advocate undertake to assist the victims of coercive conversion


[1] Kabir, G. (1980). Minority politics in Bangladesh. Vikas.

[2] Ackerman, R. (2018). Forced Conversions across the Commonwealth: An Introductory Note. The University of Birmingham.

[3]The Chief Prosecutor vs. Moslem Prodhan and another, ICTBD [ICT-1] Case No. 01 of 2016. See charge no. 1 where it was arraigned that the local razakars forced a village full of Hindu people to convert.

[4]Chaney,P., Sahoo, S. (2020) Civil society and the contemporary threat to religious freedom in Bangladesh, Journal of Civil Society.

[5]Ghulam, H. (2020). Forced Conversions or Faith Conversions: Rhetoric and Reality. Institute of Policy Studies.



[8] General Comment No. 22: The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 18) :30/07/93. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4, General Comment No. 22. (General Comments)- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved from: Accessed on: 02.02.2021.

[9] Ibid




[13] Ackerman, R. (2018). Forced Conversions across the Commonwealth: An Introductory Note. The University of Birmingham.

[14]Islam, U. (2013 June 27). Forced conversion of religion after abduction. Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved from: Accessed on: 02.02.2021.

[15]Gumaste, V. (2020 February 8). There may be no Hindus left in Bangladesh. The Sunday Guardian Live. Retrieved from: Accessed on 28.01.2021. Also see: Bhattacharjee, M. (2019 May 14). Reasons Behind the Forced Migration of Bangladeshi Hindu Religious Minorities to India. International Journal on Minorities and Group Rights, 26(3), BRILL, p. 461-483.

[16]Barua, S.K. (2020 September 28). Rape of Chakma Girl: All 9 rapists are robbers. The Daily Star. Retrieved from: Accessed on: 02.02.2021.

[17]Barua, S. K. (2021, January 20),Lakingme Chakma’s Death: Two int’l rights groups demand enquiry into PBI team, public prosecutor, The Daily Star. Retrieved from:  Accessed on 03.03.2021.

[18]Barua, S.K. (2020 September 28).

[19] Bhattacharjee, M. (2019). Reasons Behind the Forced Migration of Bangladeshi Hindu Religious Minorities to India. International Journal on Minorities and Group Rights, 26(3), BRILL, p. 461-483.

[20] Mathur, A. (2020 December 23). Anti-Conversion Laws in India: How States deal with religious conversion. India Today. Retrieved from:, Accessed on 28.01.2021.

[21] Mishra, A. (2021 January 4). UP Govt to submit response on anti-conversion ordinance in Allahabad HC today. India Today. Retrieved from:, Accessed on 28.01.2021.

[22]Baul, T.K. (2020), Study on Victim and Witness Protection Act. Manusher Jonno Foundation.