Conversion Not Prohibited Unless Forced, It’s Right Of A Person: Court

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The Delhi High Court Friday said there should be sufficient material available to substantiate the claims of forced religious conversion and it cannot be based on social media data which has instances of morphed photographs.
The high court said the issue of forced religious conversion is an important issue of greater ramifications and it wants to examine it deeper before forming an opinion or issuing notice to the government on a petition seeking direction to prohibit religious conversion by intimidation or allurement through gifts and money.

“First and foremost, conversion is not prohibited. It’s a right of an individual to profess any religion, religion of his birth, or religion that he chooses to profess. That’s the freedom our Constitution grants. You are saying somebody is forced to be converted,” the bench said.

A bench of Justices Sanjeev Sachdeva and Tushar Rao Gedela further observed, “There is no such thing like a fraud in religion. All religions have beliefs. Beliefs may or may not have some scientific foundation that does not mean that the belief is fraud. That’s a belief an individual has. In that belief either somebody is forced to convert that’s another issue. If you say someone is coerced into converting then that is the person’s prerogative.”

The court was hearing a petition by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking direction to the Centre and Delhi Government to prohibit religious conversion by intimidating, threatening, and deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits and by using black magic and superstition.

The petition stated that religious conversion by “the carrot and the stick” and “by hook or crook” not only offends Articles 14, 15, 21, and 25 but also against the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

The court questioned the petitioner and asked him what was the foundation of such a prayer, where are the statistics of forced conversion, and what was the number of such conversions.

“What is the material on record? There is nothing, no documentation, not one instance given by you. This will require a detailed examination. We will have it after vacations… Where are the statistics? How many conversions happened? Who is converted? You say mass conversion is happening, where is the number?” the bench asked.

When the counsel urged the court to issue notice on the petition and asked the government counsel to take instructions on the issue, the bench asked how could it issue a notice at this stage and added that the court has to be first satisfied that there is some basis to even issue notice.

When the petitioner said he has social media data on forced conversion, the bench shot back, “Social media is no data. We have instances of photographs being morphed. Some instances where it shows an incident that happened and then it turns out that it happened in some country 20 years ago and that photograph will show as if it happened yesterday or today.”

On the petitioner’s submission that he will provide copies of newspapers to substantiate his claim, the bench said it is the settled position in law that newspapers, social media, and WhatsApp are not facts.

“They may or may not contain facts but they cannot be the basis of a petition. You can collate information from ministries or central government,” it said, adding, “It is better you place information before us. There has to be something upon which we can act otherwise it will be an academic exercise. The laws are in place.”

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, representing the Centre, said the issue raised in the petition is important. To this, the bench said it is an important issue of greater ramifications and it also wants to examine it deeper before forming an opinion.

“You have brought it to the notice of the government. That is enough for the government to take action if they want. They don’t need directions from the court. They have competent powers to take action,” it said.

The court listed the petition for further hearing on July 25.

The petition claimed that the Centre and Delhi Government have failed to control the menace of black magic, superstition, and deceitful religious conversion, though it’s their duty under Article 51A.

The plea said that Article 114 of the Constitution ensures equality before the law and secured equal protection of laws but there are different laws on conversion not only across the country but in Delhi and its neighbouring states.

“Presently, religious conversion by intimidating, threatening, and deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits is an offence in Ghaziabad but not in adjoining East Delhi. Similarly, religious conversion by using black magic and superstition is an offence in Gurugram but not in adjoining West Delhi,” the plea said.

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