Parliament free to make law against forced religious conversion but courts can’t recommend it based on newspaper reports: Delhi High Court

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The Delhi High Court, on Monday, remarked that parliament and State legislatures are free to make laws prohibiting forced conversions, but for the court to make any such recommendation, a strong case has to be made.

A Division Bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva and Tushar Rao Gedela said that it cannot rely on newspaper reports to make such recommendations and a petitioner seeking such a prayer will have to produce solid material to substantiate his claims.

“You are saying that such a situation has arisen that a law needs to be made. The legislature is competent to do so. No one is stopping the Centre from making a law on the subject,” Justice Sachdeva remarked.

The Court was dealing with a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay seeking to stop forced religious conversions in the national capital either through enticement or ‘black magic’.

On Upadhyay’s submission that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has said that there is a need for law against forced conversions, the bench said let him make a law.

“If the CM says there is a need for a law, he can bring a law,” the judge said.

The bench further questioned Upadhyay if he has any statistics to substantiate his claims of Delhi becoming a safe haven for such conversions.

As Upadhyay referred to the news articles, the bench said that the court cannot rely on newspaper reports to make a recommendation to the legislature to frame a law banning religious conversions.

The Court said that newspaper articles can’t become facts and a case has to be made by Upadhyay before such a recommendation is made.

“We can make a recommendation but you have to make a case for such a recommendation to be made. You are referring to these news articles. Give us something specific instances. Please have something on record. You have not placed even a single instance on record,” the Court said.

The bench also remarked that even in the last hearing, the Court had asked Upadhyay to come up with statistics but no concrete material was produced even today.

Upadhyay submitted that he had filed RTI queries with the Delhi Police and Uttar Pradesh government seeking details of the number of complaints received in relation to forced religious conversions but responses for many of these are still awaited.

He added that his RTI query with the Centre about how many people travelled to India in the last two decades to propagate religion is also pending.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma, appearing for the Central government, said that it is nobody’s case that forced conversion is not happening but he has to place some material on record or file an affidavit stating his claims.

The Court then granted Upadhyay four more weeks to place an additional affidavit on record and substantiate his allegations.

In his plea, Upadhyay has argued that forceful conversions through intimidation, threats, deception or by use of ‘black magic’ and ‘superstition’ not only offends the provisions of the Constitution but even goes against the idea of secularism.

Both the Central and Delhi government have failed to control menace of black magic superstition and deceitful religious conversion, though it is their duty under Article 51A of Constitution, he has contended.

It was also argued that Article 14 of the Constitution ensures equality before law and secures equal protection of laws but there are differing laws on conversion not only across the country but even in Delhi and its neighbouring areas.

“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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