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Delhi High Court declines to hear plea challenging religious conversion

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BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay on Friday withdrew his plea from Delhi High Court seeking control over religious conversions of socially and economically vulnerable people by way of intimidation, threat or deceit.

While declining to entertain the plea, the division bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Hari Shankar Prasad said that religion is a personal belief and whether to convert to a different faith or not is an individual’s choice.

Upadhyay submitted that he wants the government to take a stand on religious conversion.

However, the bench retorted, “Tell us how can we regulate it? What will we regulate? If someone is threatening someone or intimidating someone, it is an offence under the Indian Penal Code.”

The bench said and added there was no reason for an individual to succumb to threats, intimidation or allurement to convert to a different faith.

The petitioner had prayed for directions to be issued to the respondents– State of NCT of Delhi, and  Union of India– through the Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Home Affairs,  to take apposite steps to control conversion to another religion by intimidating, threatening or deceivingly luring gifts or monetary benefits or by using miracles, superstition and black magic.

The plea had asked the court for directions to prohibit religious gatherings organised with the intent to mislead people or to entice masses who are ignorant in joining a particular faith or religious group by claims of possession of supernatural powers,  that are untrue and exaggerated.

Upadhyay had also asked for the implementation of recommendations of Law Commission Report-235 on Conversion/Reconversion to Another Religion, where the emphasis was laid down on framing guidelines for conversion and reconversion in order to avoid conflicts and it was acknowledged that change of religion is a conscious choice of an individual based on his belief in God.

The petitioner had quoted the purpose and noble objectives of the Preamble of the Constitution and stating that they were framed with great care and after deliberations, because India is a Social Democratic Republic with a vast majority of people following different religions, where every person is free to profess the religion of his choice.

The petition has also quoted few Articles of the Constitution and how the practice of religious conversions are violative of those guarantees

Article 25 supports the concept of religious freedom that, “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health.” Article 46 of the Constitution directs the State to take appropriate steps to protect scheduled castes and scheduled tribes from social injustice and other forms of exploitation

Many individuals, NGOs and institutions are converting by intimidating, threatening, deceivingly luring monetary benefits and by other acts including miracle healing, black magic and more Such religious conversion is an injustice as well as exploitation.

The petitioner has cited the case of Indian Young Lawyer Association Case (2019) where the Supreme Court had held that in cases of religion and morality, its the duty of the Courts to ensure that what is protected is in conformity with the fundamental constitutional values and constitutional morality. While the constitution recognizes religious beliefs & faiths, its purpose is to ensure a wider acceptance of human dignity and liberty as the ultimate founding faith of the fundamental text of our governance

“Religious conversion is also being done through social media, especially through Youtube, and Facebook. Foreign-funded individuals and NGOs are given a proper road map and target of religious conversion,” the plea said.

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