Supreme Court directs Union Government to indicate steps to deal with religious conversion by force and deceit

Today’s observations expressing concern over the gravity of the issue are at odds with the Supreme Court’s earlier refusal to entertain a similar petition, which led to its withdrawal last year. 

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THE Supreme Court on Monday directed the Union Government to make its stand clear on a petition raising the issue of forced and deceitful religious conversion. A division bench comprising Justices M.R. Shah and Hima Kohli observed that the issue of forced religious conversion is a serious matter which affects national security as well as the freedom of conscience of an individual.

The bench directed the Union Government to file its reply indicating the steps it is proposing to take to tackle the menace of forced religious conversions, and directed the matter to be listed on November 28. It observed that the Union Government must step in before the situation becomes difficult.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by Bharatiya Janta Party leader and advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, seeking directions to the Union Government and state governments to take steps to prevent forced religious conversion by intimidation, threatening, or luring through gifts and monetary benefits.

Appearing for the Union Government, Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta submitted that the matter is indeed serious. He added that states like Odisha and Madhya Pradesh have legislation to prohibit forced conversion. He also referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in Rev. Stainislaus versus State Of Madhya Pradesh (1977) which upheld the validity of such laws. In Rev. Stainislaus, a Constitution bench of the court held that the right to propagate religion did not include the right to convert from one religion to another under Article 25 of the Constitution.

The observations of the Justice Shah-led bench are in contrast to those of a three-judge bench of the court headed by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman (since retired) that had on April 9, 2021 refused to entertain a similar petition filed by Upadhyay. The bench had also comprised Justices B.R. Gavai and Hrishkesh Roy. Sensing the mood of the bench, Upadhyay had chosen to withdraw his petition at that time.

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