New Delhi: Observing that religious conversion is a serious issue which should not be given a political colour, the Supreme Court on Monday sought the assistance of Attorney General R Venkataramani on a plea seeking direction to the Centre and states to take stringent steps to control fraudulent religious conversions.
A bench of Justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar asked Venkataramani to appear in the matter in which the petitioner sought a check on religious conversions through ”intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits”, and assist as amicus curiae.
The top court said “prime facie” it feels religious conversions are actually happening. It said there is a difference between the right to freedom of religion and right to convert. ”We want your assistance also, AG. Religious conversions by force, allurement etc. There are ways and ways, anything by allurement, if that is happening, then what should be done? What are the corrective measures that can be taken?” the bench said.
Senior advocate P Wilson, appearing for Tamil Nadu, called the petition a ”politically motivated” PIL, insisting there was no question of such conversions in the state.
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He said the matter should be left for the legislature to decide and alleged the petitioner has political affiliation and that he had sedition charges against him.
The bench objected to Wilson’s remarks and said,” You may have different reasons to be agitated like this. Don’t convert court proceedings into other things. … We are concerned for the entire state. If it is happening in your state, it is bad. If not, good. Do not see it as targeting one state. Don’t bring politics into it and give it a political colour.” The top court said fraudulent religious conversion is a very serious matter and asked senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for petitioner Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, to be physically present in the court.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta termed such conversions a matter related to national interest and said the government was taking it seriously. Asserting that the purpose of charity should not be conversion, the top court had earlier reaffirmed that forced religious conversion is a ”serious issue” and against the Constitution. The court was hearing a petition filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking direction to the Centre and states to take tough steps to control fraudulent religious conversions.
Forced religious conversion may pose a danger to national security and impinge on the religious freedom of citizens, the top court had said recently and asked the Centre to step in and make sincere efforts to tackle the ”very serious” issue. The court had warned a ”very difficult situation” will emerge if proselytisation through deception, allurement and intimidation is not stopped.
The Gujarat government had told the top court at an earlier hearing that freedom of religion does not include the right to convert others, and requested it to vacate a high court stay on the provision of a state law that mandates prior permission of the district magistrate for conversion through marriage.
Upadhyay has submitted in his petition that forced religious conversion is a nationwide problem which needs to be tackled immediately. ”The injury caused to the citizens is extremely large because there is not even one district which is free of religious conversion by ‘hook and crook’,” he claimed in the petition.
”Incidents are reported every week throughout the country where conversion is done by intimidating, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits and also by using black magic, superstition, miracles but Centre and States have not taken stringent steps to stop this menace,” said the plea filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey.
The plea has also sought directions to the Law Commission of India to prepare a report as well as a Bill to control religious conversion by intimidation and through monetary benefits.
The matter will be heard next on February 7.