Wednesday, March 29, 2023

‘Religious freedom does not include right to convert’: Center tells SC | India news

New Delhi: The Center told the Supreme Court on Monday that religious freedom does not include a fundamental right to convert other people to a particular religion and that it certainly does not embrace the right to convert an individual through fraud, deception, coercion or allurement. The central government said it is ‘cognizant of the menace’ and laws that seek to control such practices are necessary to protect the cherished rights of vulnerable sections of the society including women and economically and socially backward classes. The Centre’s stand came on a short affidavit in response to a plea by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking direction to take stringent steps to control fraudulent religious conversions by “intimidation” and through “gifts and monetary benefits”.

The affidavit, filed through the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, asserted that the reliefs sought in the present petition would be taken up “in all seriousness” by the Union of India and that it is “cognizant of the gravity and the seriousness of the issue raised in the present writ petition. A bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar, while hearing the matter, observed it was not against religious conversions but forced conversions, and asked the Center to file a detailed affidavit on the issue after taking information from states.

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“You file a detailed affidavit after obtaining the necessary information from the concerned States” We are not against conversion. But there cannot be any forced conversion,” the court observed. The court deferred hearing on the petition as well as an impleadment application challenging its maintainability till December 5. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that forced conversion was a “serious menace” and a “national issue” and that in its affidavit the central government has mentioned the relevant steps taken by certain states.

The affidavit informed that public order being a state subject, various states “Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Haryana” have passed laws seeking to curb forced conversions. “The Petitioner has, in the present writ petition, highlighted a large number of instances carried out in an organised, systematic and sophisticated manner of conversion of vulnerable citizens in the country through fraud, deception, coercion, allurement or other such means. “It is submitted that the right to freedom of religion does not include a fundamental right to convert other people to a particular religion. The said right certainly does not include the right to convert an individual through fraud, deception, coercion, allurement or other such means,” the affidavit said.

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The Center said the apex court has already held in a case that the word propagates under Article 25 of the Constitution does not envisage the right to convert a person but a right to spread one’s religion by exposition of its tenets. It said fraudulent or induced conversion impinges upon the right to freedom of conscience of an individual and hampers public order and therefore the state was well within its power to regulate or restrict it.


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