The court has rejected a petition which asked for strick laws to check on religious conversion
The Supreme Court of India on Friday termed a plea as “very harmful” that asked for a strict law that will allow checking on religious conversion and said that adults are free to choose their faith.
A bench headed by Justice Rohinton F Nariman conveyed strong dissatisfaction at the plea by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and lawyer Aswhini Upadhyay and further warned him of a monetary penalty if he chose to press the petition, reports Hindustan Times.
The bench, which also included justices BR Gavai and Hrishikesh Roy, cautioned senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayan, who represented Upadhyay in the matter, as soon as the hearing commenced.
“What kind of a petition is this? This is a very harmful petition. If you are going to argue this, we are going to impose a heavy cost on you,” Justice Nariman told Sankaranarayanan.
The senior lawyer, on his defence, sought to rely upon the Supreme Court’s judgment in Sarla Mudgal’s case in 1995 where the top court made observation emphasizing the necessity of unified central legislation that will oversee religious conversion.
“There is a reason why the word ‘propagate’ is there in the Constitution. You have to have some meaning for that word. There is no reason why somebody above 18 cannot choose one’s own religion or somebody else’s religion,” retorted Justice Nariman.
Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan argued that this petition was not about interfaith marriages after the judge commented that an adult could choose even the religion of somebody else, however, the court rejected his argument with a warning.
Justice Nariman has expressed his personal disagreement with the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Rev Stainislaus case in 1977 whereby it was held that the right to propagate did not include the right to convert someone to one’s own religion
At this point, the counsel sought to withdraw this petition with the liberty to file a representation before the law commission of India which was refused by the bench. Gopal Sankaranarayanan later withdrew the petition upon the advice of the bench.
Ashwini Upadhyay requested the top court to issue appropriate directions to the Centre for considering a unified law in terms of the observation made by it in the Sarla Mudgal case while citing the absence of a central law to stop religious conversion by fraud or allurement.
He said the Supreme Court may issue certain directives to check fraudulent and forcible religious conversion. The petition claimed that religious conversion by “carrot and stick” and “by hook or crook” not only offended constitutional provisions but also went against the principles of secularism.
Upadhyay made the plea by pointing out that although eight states, Odisha (1967), Madhya Pradesh (1968), Arunachal Pradesh (1978), Chhattisgarh (2000), Gujarat (2003), Himachal Pradesh (2006), Jharkhand (2017), and Uttarakhand (2018) have enacted anti-conversion laws, there is an urgent need for the Centre to impose such law against religious conversion which will ensure minimum imprisonment of three years along with a hefty fine, applicable across the country.
“I will immediately approach the Union home ministry, law ministry, and the law commission of India with my plea on taking appropriate steps towards a central legislation. I will approach the Supreme Court again if no effective steps are taken in the next six months,” Upadhyay told Hindustan Times after the hearing.