Case. | photo credit: Reuters
The Supreme Court said Monday that religious conversions by force, seduction or fraud could “ultimately affect the security of the nation and the freedom of religion and conscience of citizens,” while ordering the Center to “intervene” and clarify what he intends to do. to curb forced or deceptive religious conversions.
“There may be freedom of religion but there may not be freedom of religion through forced conversion… This is a very serious problem. Everyone has the right to choose their religion, but not by forced conversion or giving temptation,” said a panel of judges MR Shah and Hima Kohli.
Read | Delhi High Court’s remark on conversion ‘right’ raises questions
The court ordered the Center to file an affidavit by November 22 detailing the steps it proposed to take to curb forced conversions. He said such conversions were found more in poor and tribal areas.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, said forced conversions were “endemic” in tribal areas.
“Giving rice, wheat, clothes, etc., etc., can never be grounds for asking a person to change their conscience or negotiate my basic right to religion,” Mehta acknowledged.
The petitioner, Barrister Ashwini Upadhyay, said there should be a special law against forced conversions or the law should be incorporated as an offense in the Indian Penal Code.
“But the difficulty is who will file a complaint? … the State concerned may not file a complaint too … This is why the Union must intervene,” reacted Judge Shah.
“In many cases, the victims would not know that he was the subject of a criminal offense… He would say that he was helped,” Mr Mehta intervened.
The court said the Union must now make “very serious and sincere efforts to stop the forced conversions”, while scheduling the hearing of the case on November 28.
Mr Mehta said the word “propagate” had come up in the debates of the Constituent Assembly. “It was decided that the term did not mean forced conversions,” the court officer said.
He argued that the Supreme Court dealt with the laws passed by Madhya Pradesh and Orissa against forced conversion and ruled that “every person’s freedom of conscience includes the freedom not to be allowed to change his conscience and to to convert…”
The Solicitor General was referring to the 1997 Supreme Court judgment by a Constitution Bench in the Reverend Stainislaus Versus State of Madhya Pradesh, which had considered that the word “propagate” in article 25 did not give “the right to convert another person to his own religion, but to transmit or spread his religion by the exhibition of its principles “.
The Constitutional Court had also held that there was “no fundamental right to convert another person to his own religion”. Freedom of religion is not guaranteed with respect to a single religion, but covers all religions equally.
“If a person deliberately undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, as opposed to his effort to transmit or disseminate the principles of his religion, it would undermine the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all citizens of the country, had motivated the judgment of 1977.
Article 25(1) of the Constitution states that “subject to public order, morals and health…all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and freely propagate their religion”.
Mr Upadhyay alleged “mass conversions” of socially and economically disadvantaged people, particularly those from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Earlier this year, the Delhi High Court, hearing a petition by Mr Upadhyay to craft laws prohibiting religious conversions by force or deception, observed that “first and foremost, conversion is not is not prohibited. It is a right of an individual to profess any religion, religion of his birth, or religion he chooses to profess. This is the freedom that our Constitution grants.