NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday decided to examine a PIL for a direction to the Centre and States to control religious conversion carried out fraudulently or by intimidation, threat, deceit, and through gifts and monetary benefits.
Observing that it is a serious matter, a bench of Justices M R Shah and Krishna Murari issued notice to the Union government's Ministries of Home and Law and Justice on the petition filed by BJP leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
The court sought a reply from the Centre after hearing Upadhyay in person.
In his plea, he claimed the Centre and States have failed to control menace of deceitful religious conversion, though it is their duty under Articles 14, 21, 25 of the Constitution.
The plea said Article 25 protects right of all persons to enjoy a freedom of conscience, necessarily implying, freedom without intimidation, threat, undue coercion or misguided material lure.
However, "The content of constitutionally guaranteed freedom loses its essence and Article 25 is denuded of its content when the State fails to adopt and implement sufficient measures to ensure that unlawful, coercive and forceful conversions are prohibited," it said.
The ignominy of having to lose one’s freedom of conscience on illicit lures of material benefits, is the ultimate exploitation which the Constitution surely does not envisage protected under Article 25, it added.
The petitioner also claimed the situation is alarming as many individuals and organisations are carrying mass conversions of SC-STs in rural areas for the last two decades.
He also cited alleged suicide by 17-year-old girl, Lavanya on January 19, in Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.
"Lavanya’s untimely demise is a wake-up call. It reminds people of evangelists’ imperialistic goals. Indeed, it reminds people of how an elaborate plan has been used to uproot Hinduism-Secularism. In fact, many more Lavanyas have been compelled to take such drastic measures as a result of such coercive-persuasive tactics," the plea had contended.
The plea also said this Court cannot be a mute spectator if followers of Indian religions are being converted to foreign religion due to the Executive's inaction by use of force, allurement or fraudulent means.
The plea said Article 14 of the Constitution ensures equality before law and equal protection of laws. However, religious conversion by intimidating, threatening and deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits is an offence in Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh) but not in adjoining East Delhi as there is no provision in Chapter-XV of Indian Penal Code.
Similarly, religious conversion by using black magic and superstition is an offence in Gurugram and Faridabad but not in adjoining West and South Delhi, which is not only contrary to the Articles 14 but is also conflicting to the principles of secularism and rule of law, the basic structure of the Constitution.
The petitioner submitted that religious conversion by “hook and crook” and by “the carrot and the stick” is not the problem of Delhi only but a pan India problem. Therefore, it is the duty of the Centre to take steps to prohibit it nationwide.
He claimed women and children are the main target of foreign funded missionaries and conversion mafias and the situation is alarming as many individuals-organizations 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 IPC Chapter-XV does not cover religious conversion. Therefore, many States have become the safe place for foreign funded individuals, NGOs and missionaries and they have established their offices even in Delhi (Okhla, Jamia Nagar, Batla House, Kali Bari Marg etc).