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Allahabad High Court denies bail to man, says Constitution dies not allow a citizen to religiously convert another citizen


The Allahabad High Court while rejecting a bail application said that the Constitution of India clearly envisages and permits its citizens right to freedom of religion in respect to their professing, practising and propagating its religion. It does not allow or permit any citizen to convert any citizen from one religion to another religion.

A Single Bench of Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal passed this order while hearing a Criminal Misc Bail Application filed by Shriniwas Rav Nayak.

By means of the application under Section 439 of Cr.P.C, applicant who is involved in Case under Sections 3/5 (1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, Police Station- Nichlaul, District- Maharajganj seeks enlargement on bail, during the pendency of trial.

The prosecution story as unfolded in the First Information Report is that on 15.02.2024, the informant was invited to the house of co-accused, Vishwanath. When he reached there he saw that many people of the village were there, most of them belonging to the Scheduled Castes community. Along with the co-accused, Vishwanath, his brother, Brijlal, the applicant and one Ravindra were present. He was asked to leave Hindu religion and accept Christianity.

He was told that once he accepted Christianity, all his pain would come to an end and he would progress in life. Some of the villagers on the assurance had accepted Christianity and started praying. The informant after making an excuse ran away and informed the Police.

Counsel for the applicant submitted that the applicant has no connection with the alleged conversion and is a domestic help of one of the co-accused and is resident of Andhra Pradesh and has been falsely roped in the case.

Counsel for the applicant further submitted that the FIR does not disclose any religion converter as defined under Section 2(I)(i) of the Act of 2021. Further, statements of witnesses as alleged by the Police cannot be accepted as no undue influence was put for converting. Moreover, no person who has accepted Christianity has come forward to make any complaint.

A.G.A, while opposing the bail application, submitted that mass conversion was going on, and the informant who was asked to accept Christianity had refused and had informed the Police in writing upon which the applicant was arrested. According to him, case under Section 3/5 of the Act of 2021 is made out against the applicant who is a resident of Andhra Pradesh and had come to the place in question at Maharajganj where the conversion was taking place and was actively participating in the conversion from one religion to another which is against the law.

The Court noted that,

The U.P Act came into force on 4th March, 2021 after receiving assent of the Governor. It was published in the Government Gazette on 5th March, 2021. The statement of object and reason for enforcing the Act was to provide for prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage and for the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The Constitution of India guarantees religious freedom to all persons which reflects the social harmony and spirit of India. The objective of this right is to sustain the spirit of secularism in India. According to the Constitution, the State has no religion and all religions are equal before the State, and no religion shall be given preference over the other. All the persons are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice.

The Constitution confers on each individual the fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate his religion. However, the individual right to freedom of conscience and religion cannot be extended to construe a collective right to proselytize; the right to religious freedom belongs equally to the person converting and the individual sought to be converted.

The Court further noted that,

The Act of 2021 was enacted keeping in view the above constitutional provision for prohibiting unlawful conversion from one religion to another.

In the case, the informant was invited by the co-accused, Vishwanath to his house on 15.02.2024 for attending a programme where it was found by the informant that number of villagers had gathered, mostly belonging to Scheduled Castes community who were being allured and misrepresented to convert to Christianity leaving their religion on the premise that their pain and sorrow will come to an end, and they will progress in life. Some of the villagers on the assurance had accepted Christianity, while the informant ran away from the programme and informed the Police in writing.

Moreover, during the investigation, the Police had recorded statements of independent witnesses which had been brought on record by the State through a counter affidavit which clearly reveals that such a function was held in which the conversion was taking place.

 

The argument raised from the applicant side that there was no Religion Convertor present when the conversion was taking place is of no help as Section 2(i) only defines “Religion Convertor”. The Act does not provide that a Religion Convertor should be present when the conversion is taking place.

"In the case, the informant was persuaded to convert to another religion, which is prima facie sufficient to decline bail to the applicant as it establishes that a conversion programme was going on where many villagers belonging to Scheduled Castes community were being converted from Hindu religion to Christianity. There arises no occasion as to why the informant would rope in the applicant, who is a resident of Andhra Pradesh, falsely in a case of unlawful religion conversion. Neither in the bail application nor during argument, it has been submitted that there stood any enmity between the informant and the applicant.

The Court finds that prima facie a case for unlawful religion conversion is made out under the Act of 2021 and the applicant cannot be enlarged on bail, as the Act prohibits religion conversion under Section 3, which is punishable under Section 5 of the Act of the 2021", the Court observed while rejecting the bail application.