New Delhi, Jan 9: The Supreme Court on Monday sought the assistance of Attorney General R. Venkataramani on a plea seeking direction to the Central government and state governments to take action against forced religious conversions.
A bench, headed by Justice M.R. Shah, observed that religious conversion is a serious and important issue and it should not be given a political colour.
The bench, also comprising Justice C.T. Ravikumar, sought the AG’s assistance on a petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay against religious conversions by force, allurement etc.
Justice Shah told the AG: “We want your assistance also, as Attorney General for India... it is a conversion matter, religious conversion by force, allurement or some other things, these are allegations... we are not opining anything, whether it has actually happened or not, we are just considering”.
“What should be done in such a case?... there is a difference between right to freedom, right to religion, and right to convert anything by allurement, if that is happening, then what will happen, what should be done... What further corrective measures can be taken... we want assistance from AG,” he added.
Senior advocate P. Wilson, representing the Tamil Nadu government, submitted that the petition is politically motivated and argued that there was no question of such conversions in the state.
At this, the bench said: “You may have different reasons to be agitated like this. Don’t convert court proceedings into other things. We are concerned with the entire country... If it is happening in your state, it is bad. If not, then it is good.
“Do not make it political.”
The court was hearing a petition filed by Upadhyay seeking direction to the Centre and states to take tough steps to control fraudulent religious conversions. The top court scheduled the matter for further hearing on February 7.
The top court also renamed the cause title as “re: issue of religious conversion” as lawyers object to the PIL filed by Upadhyay in his own name.
On December 5, the Supreme Court said the issue of forced religious conversion is a “very serious issue” and emphasised that charity is welcome, but the purpose of charity must not be conversion.
The top court allowed the Centre to file a detailed counter after obtaining the necessary responses from various state governments in connection with anti-conversion laws and other relevant information.
The Gujarat government, in its written response, said, “It is humbly submitted that the Act of 2003 (Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003) is a validly constituted legislation and more particularly the provision of section 5 of the Act of 2003, which is holding the field since last 18 years and thus, a valid provision of law so as to achieve the objective of the Act of 2003 and to maintain the public order within the state of Gujarat by protecting the cherished rights of vulnerable sections of the society including women and economically and socially backward classes.”
The state government said the Gujarat High Court “stayed the operation of Section 5 of the Act of 2003, which is in fact an enabling provision for a person to get converted from one religion to another religion on his own volition”.
It said the high court failed to appreciate that by staying the operation of section 5 of the Act of 2003, the whole purpose of the Act effectively stands frustrated. It further added that Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 was passed to strengthen the 2003 law.
Upadhyay moved the apex court against fraudulent religious conversion and religious conversion by intimidation, threatening, and deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits, as it offends Articles 14, 21, and 25.