Religious conversion, unless forced, is not prohibited: Delhi HC

Petitioner says conversion by ‘hook or crook’ offends Constitution, is against principles of secularism

June 04, 2022 02:01 am | Updated 08:46 am IST

 The High Court has posted the case for further hearing on July 25.

 The High Court has posted the case for further hearing on July 25. | Photo Credit: File photo

The Delhi High Court on Friday observed that a religious conversion, unless forced, is not prohibited as every person has the right guaranteed under the Constitution to choose or profess any religion.

A Bench of Justices Sanjeev Sachdeva and Tushar Rao Gedela made the remarks while hearing a petition by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking directions to frame laws to prohibit religious conversions by intimidation or threat, or by deceivingly luring a person through gifts and monetary benefits, or using black magic and superstition. He said “mass conversions” of socially and economically underprivileged people, particularly those belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, happening.

“First and foremost, conversion is not prohibited. It’s a right of an individual to profess any religion, religion of his birth, or religion that he chooses to profess. That’s the freedom our Constitution grants,” the court said.

Mr. Upadhyay, in his plea, said that religious conversion by “the carrot and the stick” and “by hook or crook” not only offends Articles 14, 15, 21, and 25 of the Constitution but is also against the principles of secularism.

The High Court, however, asked Mr. Upadhyay on what foundation he had made such a statement. “There is nothing, no documentation, not one instance given by you (Mr. Upadhyay). This will require a detailed examination,” the court remarked.

“Where are the statistics? How many conversions happened? Who is converted? You say mass conversion is happening, where is the number?” the High Court asked.

‘Social media no data’

When Mr. Upadhyay said he had social media data on forced conversion, the court rejected it saying, “Social media is no data.”

Mr. Upadhyay said he will provide copies of newspapers to substantiate his claim, the High Court said it was a settled position in law that newspapers, social media, and WhatsApp cannot be relied as facts.

“They may or may not contain facts but they cannot be the basis of a petition. You can collate information from Ministries or Central government,” the court said.

“All religions have beliefs. Beliefs may or may not have some scientific foundation but that does not mean that the belief is fraud. That’s a belief an individual has. In that belief either somebody is forced to convert that’s another issue. If you say someone is coerced into converting then that is the person’s prerogative,” the court observed.

The High Court, while posting the case for further hearing on July 25, declined to issue notice to the government saying it has to be first satisfied that there is some basis to even issue notice.

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