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Allahabad High Court grants bail to Jose Papachen and Sheeja booked under section 3 and 5(1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Conversion of Religion Act

The Allahabad High Court has granted bail to Jose Papachen and Sheeja booked under Section 3 and 5 (1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 and Section 3 (1) (Dha) SC/ST Act, Police Station Jalalpur, District Ambedkar Nagar.

A Single Bench of Justice Shamim Ahmed passed this order while hearing a Criminal Appeal filed by Jose Papachen and Another.

The criminal appeal under Section 14-A (2) Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has been preferred against the impugned order dated 03.03.2023 passed by court of the Special Judge S.C/S.T Act, Ambedkar Nagar, arising out of Case under Section 3 and 5 (1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 and Section 3 (1) (Dha) SC/ST Act, Police Station Jalalpur, District Ambedkar Nagar, whereby the bail application of the appellant has been rejected.

Counsel for the appellants submitted that on 24.01.2023 an F.I.R was lodged under Section 3 and 5 (1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 and Section 3(1) (dha) of Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (Amendment 2015) against the appellants at Police Station Jalalpur bearing F.I.R by the complainant, who is Zila Manti of Bhartiya Janta Party Ambedkar Nagar, alleging therein that the appellants are engaged for conversion of religion by various allurement amongst the communities of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe since three months.

Consequently, the members of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe are annoyed with the activities of conversion of Religion by the appellants.

Counsel for the appellants further submitted that the appellants are innocent and have been falsely implicated in the case due to political rivalry. The appellants are not involved in any such type of activities, as alleged in the F.I.R and the F.I.R has been lodged only to defame the image of the appellants and their entire family in the society.

Counsel for the applicant has placed emphasis on Section 3 of the Act, 2021 which provides prohibition of conversion from one religion to another religion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion and allurement, clearly specifying that conversion on the aforesaid grounds from one religion to another religion is prohibited. False allegations regarding allurement and undue influence for the purposes of mass conversion have been made. It has also been alleged that free treatment was being provided to patients in the hospital which can not be said to be a temptation for purposes of mass conversion.

Counsel for the appellant also submitted that the accused/appellant is languishing in jail since 24.01.2023, who has no previous criminal history, and in case the appellant is enlarged on bail, he shall not misuse the liberty of bail and he shall also fully cooperate with the trial. He has further submitted that there is no possibility of the appellant to intimidate or pressurize the witnesses or any other persons acquainted with the facts of the case.

Per contra, A.G.A has vehemently opposed the prayer by submitting that there is active participation of accused/appellant in the crime. He states that the case concerns mass religious conversions within the State of Uttar Pradesh from Hindu religion to Christianity through illicit means. The appellants are allegedly using psychological pressure for forceful conversions, as part of their plan to set up an Christianity state.

In the considered opinion of the Court, after a detailed discussion and evaluation of the material on record it is to be taken into consideration by this Court that primary allegation against the appellants is of having contravened the provisions of Section 3 of the Act of 2021, which prohibits conversion or attempt of conversion either directly or otherwise from one religion to another by use of practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means. But there does not appear to be any material as to show that appellants had used any undue influence or allurement to the said villagers for mass conversion. Rather appellants were involved in providing good teachings to children and promoting the spirit of brotherhood amongst the villagers and there does not appear to be existence of any material which would suggest conversion by use of force.

The Court noted that the first information was not lodged by the competent person as required under Section 4 of the Act of 2021. The various categories of person enumerated in Section 4, who are competent to lodge the first information report are any aggrieved person. The words “any aggrieved person” at the very start of the said section can be interpreted to mean any person, especially since there is no provision under the I.P.C or Cr.P.C, which bars or prohibits any person from lodging a first information report regarding cognizable offence.

However, the words ” any aggrieved person” is qualified by the subsequent categories and the words his, her parents, brother, sisters or blood relations by marriage and adoption included. Therefore, the words “any aggrieved person”, if taken by themselves are extremely wide. The scope of the said term is completely whittled down by subsequent categories and therefore, it has to be said that any aggrieved person would be a person but is personally aggrieved by his or her fraudulent conversion be it an individual or in a mass conversion ceremony. Any interpretation to the contrary would render the remainder of Section 4 after the words “any aggrieved person ” wholly redundant and also render the Section itself completely meaningless. Under the said circumstances the first information report dated 24-01-2023 was not lodged by a competent person.

“After perusing the record in the light of the submissions made at the bar and after taking an overall view of all the facts and circumstances of this case, the nature of evidence, the period of detention already undergone, unlikelihood of early conclusion of trial and also in absence of any convincing material to indicate the possibility of tampering with the evidence and considering the fact that there appears force in the argument of the counsel for the appellants that the appellants are not involved in activity of attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fradulent means and they have been falsely implicated in the case and the complainant has no locus to lodge the F.I.R as provided under Section 4 of the Act, 2021 and there also appears force in the argument of the counsel for the appellants that providing good teachings, distributing Holy Bible books, encouraging children to get education, organizing assembly of villagers and performing “Bhandara” and instructing the villagers not to enter into altercation and also not to take liquor do not amount to allurement and further considering that the complainant is Zila Mantri of a ruling party and is neither the aggrieved person, his/her parents, brother, sister or any other person, who is related to him/her by blood, marriage or adoption, as provided under Section 4 of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, thus the complainant is not competent to lodge the present F.I.R and further considering the fact that appellant is in jail since 24.01.2023 and has now by done a substantial period of detention and further considering the larger mandate of the Article 21 of the Constitution of India and the law laid down by the Apex Court in the case of Dataram Singh Vs State of UP and another, reported in (2018) 3 SCC 22, the Court is of the view that the court below has failed to appreciate the material available on record, the impugned order passed by the trial court is liable to be set aside”, the Court observed while allowing the appeal.

“Consequently, the order dated 03.03.2023 passed by court of the Special Judge S.C/S.T Act, Ambedkar Nagar, in Bail Application arising out of Case under Section 3 and 5 (1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 and Section 3 (1) (Dha) SC/ST Act, Police Station Jalalpur, District Ambedkar Nagar is hereby reversed and set aside.

Let the appellants, Jose Papachen and Sheeja, be enlarged on bail in Case under Section 3 and 5 (1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 and Section 3 (1) (Dha) SC/ST Act, Police Station Jalalpur, District Ambedkar Nagar”, the Court ordered.

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