The Supreme Court on Monday reiterated that the issue of forced religious conversion is a “very serious issue” and emphasized that charity is welcome, but the purpose of charity must not be conversion.
A bench headed by justice M.R. Shah said if somebody wants help then that person should be helped, and pointed out that people convert for various reasons, but “allurement is dangerous”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, on his part, submitted before the bench, also comprising Justice C.T. Ravikumar, a neutral authority to decide whether people are converting for grains, medicines, or whether they are converting due to change of heart. Justice Shah said, “the matter is serious and we are taking it seriously…”
Senior advocate C.U. Singh, representing a petitioner, questioned the maintainability of the petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay against fraudulent religious conversion and religious conversion by intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits, as it offends Articles 14, 21, and 25.
Justice Shah said, “By giving some aid…you want to help somebody who wants help…purpose of charity must not be conversion…every charity, good work is welcome…but what is required is intention…” He further added it’s against the basic structure of our Constitution, when everyone stays in India they are required to act as per the culture of India.
Rejecting objections regarding the maintainability of Upadhyay’s petition, the bench said it is not accepting arguments on maintainability of the petition and told the counsel, representing the petitioners seeking to intervene, that, “We are here to find a solution. It is a very serious issue”.
The bench said “We are not here to see who is right or wrong but to set things right…”
During the hearing, Mehta said Gujarat government has filed its response in the matter and by mistake the high court had stayed parts of the law, and added that he says this with responsibility.
After hearing arguments, the top court allowed the Centre to file a detailed counter after obtaining necessary response from various state governments in connection with anti-conversion laws and other relevant information, and scheduled the matter for further hearing on next Monday.
The Gujarat government, in its written response, said, “It is humbly submitted that that the Act of 2003 (Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003) is a validly constituted legislation and more particularly the provision of section 5 of the Act of 2003, which is holding the field since last 18 years and thus, a valid provision of law so as to achieve the objective of the Act of 2003 and to maintain the public order within the State of Gujarat by protecting the cherished rights of vulnerable sections of the society, including women and economically and socially backward classes”.
The state government said the Gujarat High Court “stayed the operation of Section 5 of the Act of 2003, which is in fact an enabling provision for a person to get converted from one religion to another religion on his own volition”.
The state government said the high court failed to appreciate that by staying the operation of section 5 of the Act of 2003, the whole purpose of the Act effectively stands frustrated. It further added that Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 was passed to strengthen the 2003 law.
An application impleadment has been filed by Chhattisgarh Christian Forum through president, Arun Pannalal. The plea, filed through advocate Adeel Ahmed, said, “Application is filed after various complaints and news reports of violent attacks, hate crimes and discrimination against the Christian community reported in the state of Chhattisgarh based on erroneous and false information of forced conversion of individuals. That the respondents failed to allay the misplaced fears of forceful conversion by Christian community. They have failed to distinguish between conversion as a matter of choice and conversion that may be coerced.”