Charity is welcome, but the intention should not be religious conversion: Supreme Court

A Bench led by Justice M.R. Shah said conversion on the basis of a voluntarily felt belief in the deity of a different faith is different from belief gained through allurement

December 05, 2022 07:04 pm | Updated December 06, 2022 10:42 am IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court on December 5, 2022 said acts of charity or good work to help a community or the poor should not cloak an intention to religiously convert them as payback.

A Bench led by Justice M.R. Shah said conversion on the basis of a voluntarily felt belief in the deity of a different faith is different from belief gained through allurement.

The court said it would examine such veiled intentions behind religious conversions through allurement by offering food, medicines, treatment, etc.

The court posted for final hearing on Monday the "very serious issue" of forcible or deceitful conversions in the country.

The Bench said, “We are here for a cause, we are here to find a solution.”

“Everybody has a right to choose their faith but that does not mean luring somebody by giving something. If you believe that a particular community needs help, you help it. It is charity. But the purpose of charity should not be conversion. Every charity or good work is welcome, but what requires to be considered is the intention… Charity, help, everything is welcome, but within the framework. The intention should be very clear. That is what we will consider,” Justice Shah said.

Justice Shah said, “When everybody is India, they have to act as per the culture of India.”

Justice C.T. Ravikumar, the Associate Judge on the Bench, added that “this is required for the harmony of India”.

When senior advocate Sanjay Hegde pointed out that people could choose to renounce their faith for various reasons, Justice Shah intervened to point out that “belief is a different thing… Belief by allurement, that is very dangerous”.

At this point, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the Centre, said it was therefore that a “statutory mechanism” was in place.

“A neutral authority will decide whether it is in lieu of grains, medicines, treatment offered that a person is converting or whether there is a religious or philosophical change of heart,” Mr. Mehta said.

The apex court had in the past upheld statutes which monitored or controlled religious conversions. “They can argue that right to convert is a fundamental right, but I will oppose it,” the top law officer said.

He even said that the Constitution was clear that one cannot “propagate” one’s religion through means of allurement.

Senior advocate C.U. Singh, representing Kerala Yukthivaad Sangham, a rationalist and secular organisation, objected to the court entertaining a petition by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. Mr. Singh said Mr. Upadhyay had filed the same petition thrice before and they were withdrawn without liberty. “The Solicitor General need not defend the petitioner. This is a petition based on hyperbole and exaggeration,” Mr. Singh contended.

Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, for a priest, also opposed Mr. Upadhyay on the ground of maintainability.

Mr. Mehta interjected to say that Mr. Ramachandran should not be bothered if he was not into conversion. But Justice Shah brushed aside the objections on the maintainability of the petition.

“Don’t be so technical. We are here for a cause. We are here for a solution, to set things right… Don’t take this as adversarial or for other purposes. This is a very serious issue. Ultimately, it is against the basic principles of our Constitution… We are at the stage of final hearing and make it clear that we will not enter into the question of maintainability of the petition. Your objections are rejected,” Justice Shah told Mr. Singh, while passing on printed material and photographs of what were allegedly forcible or deceitful religious conversions.

The court listed the case on Monday and directed the Centre to provide details of anti-conversion laws in various States and other materials.

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