Thursday, February 9, 2023

Continuing conversion dilemma

Indicating that there has been a rethink over its past rulings vis-à-vis ‘conversion’ from Hinduism to other religions, the Supreme Court on January 9, maintained that the issue was of national importance and that conversion needs to be viewed from that angle. While reiterating that there was a difference between ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘freedom to conversion’ the Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justices M.R.Shah and C.T.Ravikumar agreed that everybody can covert but not by allurement or deceit. The Supreme Court was hearing the case on the PIL filed on September 23,2022 by serial public interest litigator and BJP spokesperson Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay and sought responses from the Centre and others to the plea filed. Interestingly, in 2019 the litigant had also filed a PIL against extension of the Inner Line Permit(ILP) in Dimapur but which the court dismissed on June 2,2019. Upadhyay has submitted in his petition that forced religious conversion is a nationwide problem which needs to be tackled immediately. The state of Tamil Nadu was to respond to the petition. Earlier Gujarat state also appeared before the Court Bench. On the issue of conversion, Upadhyay had pleaded against conversions especially in Tamil Nadu.In response the advocate for Tamil Nadu pointed out that Upadhay is a “BJP spokesperson” who is also “facing a case of sedition” and therefore, the PIL against religious conversion was “politically motivated.” When the advocate for Tamil Nadu reminded that Upadhyay was a “BJP spokesperson”, “facing a case of sedition” and his petition against religious conversion was “politically motivated”; the Court responded that the Tamil Nadu advocate was instead giving “political colour” to a “very serious” issue of religious conversions through force, deceit, and allurement”, which was a concern for the entire nation. When the advocate for Tamil Nadu reiterated that the issue of religious conversion was a State subject under List 2 Entry 1 of the Constitution and that there was no illegal religious conversions in Tamil Nadu as alleged by the petitioner as the law on religious conversions of 2002 was subsequently repealed in the state; the court asked the advocate not to bring political colour to the matter. The Supreme Court as well as the Delhi High Court have in the last two years dismissed three similar pleas on “forced conversions” filed by the same BJP leader- Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. When Senior Advocate CU Singh told Court that the petition should be rejected outrightly as many have been in the past on the same subject matter, solicitor general Tushar Mehta said that all rationalists should be supporting such a petition. “Don’t take this as an adversarial litigation. This is a very serious issue,” Justice Shah added. Senior advocate Arvind Datar, who was appearing for Upadhyay, submitted there was no specific provision in the Indian Penal Code on illegal conversions. Justice Shah said that aspect was for the legislature to consider-whether or not to amend the IPC.Shah also added that this ought to be considered in the larger perspective and see what can be done in this situation. The matter will be heard again on February 7. As it stands it is clear that state legislatures will be obligated to enact anti-conversion laws which in themselves, take away the basic right especially of minority religions to propagate while no questions are to be asked when conversion of people from minority religions convert to the majority religion.

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