Can’t direct govt to frame law on forced religious conversion: HC

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Monday refused to direct the Centre and the Delhi government to frame a law to stop forced religious conversions, saying they were free to make such enactment even without a judicial recommendation.

The court also asked the petitioner to bring forth evidence and statistics to buttress his contention about forced religious conversions as it cannot take cognisance of the issue merely on the basis of news reports placed by him on record.

The high court said it can make recommendations to the government but for that to happen the petitioner has to first make out a prima facie case.

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Not a single instance (of forced conversion) is given in your petition. If the government is conscious about the issue, it can frame a law. It is in the domain of the legislature. Who is stopping the government from making a law?

“If they share the same view as you have, nobody is stopping them from making a law. They don’t need court’s liberty or recommendation for it, a bench of Justices Sanjeev Sachdeva and Tushar Rao Gedela said.

The court was hearing a petition by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking direction to the Centre and the Delhi government to prohibit religious conversion through intimidation, threat, deceit by offer of gifts and monetary benefits, and by using black magic and superstition.

The petition stated that religious conversion by the carrot and the stick and by hook or crook not only offends Articles 14, 15, 21, and 25 but is also against the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

These Articles relate to equality before law, prohibiting the State from discriminating between citizens on the basis of caste, religion, sex, race and place of birth, personal liberty and freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.

The high court asked the petitioner to file an additional affidavit giving some instances of forced conversion and listed the matter for further hearing on August 31.

You bring some material before us, and if the court feels it has substance, we will certainly pursue it. Because the allegations you are making are very serious but there has to be some material, the bench said.

Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma, representing the Centre, said it was nobody’s case that conversions were not happening and it was glaring. Let the petitioner put his claims on an affidavit and bring some material before the court, he said.

During the hearing, Upadhyay claimed people were being lured into religious conversion on the promise of curing their ailments, including cancer or joint pain, and alleged that due to absence of any law or guidelines on the subject, Delhi has become a safe haven for “conversion mafia”.

The bench said to substantiate his claims, the petitioner needs to place some statistics before the court which cannot take cognisance merely of the news reports placed by him on record.

As the petitioner said the chief minister of Delhi has also agreed that a law should be made against forced religious conversion, the bench said, If he agrees, then let him make the law .

The court had earlier also said there should be sufficient material available to substantiate the claims of forced religious conversion and that it cannot be based on social media data which had instances of morphed photographs.

It had said forced religious conversion was an important issue with great ramifications and it wanted to examine it deeper before forming an opinion or issuing notice to the government on the petition.

The petition has claimed that the Centre and the Delhi government have failed to control the menace of black magic, superstition, and deceitful religious conversion, though it’s their duty under Article 51A relating to fundamental duties.

The plea has said Article 14 of the Constitution ensures equality before the law and secures equal protection of laws but there are different laws on conversion across the country.

“Presently, religious conversion by intimidating, threatening, and deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits is an offence in Ghaziabad but not in adjoining East Delhi. Similarly, religious conversion by using black magic and superstition is an offence in Gurugram but not in adjoining West Delhi,” the plea has said.

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