New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice on a plea against fraudulent religious conversion by intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits, on grounds it offends Articles 14, 21, and 25, and claiming that if such conversions were not checked, Hindus would soon become a minority in India.
The plea, filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, before a bench of Justices M.R. Shah and Krishna Murari, claimed that women and children are the “main target” of foreign-funded missionaries and “conversion mafias”, but Centre and state governments have not taken appropriate steps to control religious conversion in spirit of Article 15(3).
The plea said that “freedom of religion enshrined in Article 25 is not granted exclusively in respect of one faith, but includes all religions equally, and an individual may properly enjoy it if he practices his right in a manner commensurate with the freedom of persons practicing the other religions. What is liberty for one, in equal measure, is freedom for the other, and therefore, there can be no such thing as a fundamental right to turn another man into one’s own religion”.
The petitioner has made the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Law and Justice, the CBI, the NIA, and state governments as respondents in the matter.
After hearing Upadhyay’s submissions, the bench issued notice to Centre on the plea and scheduled the matter for hearing in November.
The plea alleged that church planting is a process that results in a new (local) church being established and several unethical predatory conversion strategies are commonly used. It added that one method is material enticement in which humanitarian aid or economic, educational, medical or social assistance is offered on the condition that the person converts.
“Another is the denigration of the person’s religion to make a new religion appear superior. A third unethical, predatory method is the promotion of ‘bigotry’ i.e. knowingly and intentionally promoting religious hatred & violence. Predatory proselytisation tears apart the fabric of the communities where it occurs and has led to the annihilation of cultures,” added the plea.
Upadhyay alleged the situation is alarming as many individuals-organisations are carrying mass conversion of socially economically underprivileged citizens, particularly belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes by use of force, allurement and fraudulent means like black magic, superstition, healing etc.
The plea claimed that there are many methods by which the Centre may control forceful-deceitful conversion of underprivileged. It may enact a law with minimum imprisonment of 3 years that may extend up to 10 years and a hefty fine may be imposed, and also empower the NHRC to deal with the affairs of religious groups and keep a check by carrying out an in depth analysis of religious discrimination among them.
The plea also sought a direction to NIA/Central Bureau of Investigation and/or National Human Right Commission (NHRC)/National Commission of Protection of Child Rights to investigate root-cause of death of a 17-year-old, who committed suicide in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur.