PIL On "Mass Conversions" Filed With No Factual Basis, WhatsApp Forwards Relied Upon : Rationalist Group Tells Supreme Court

The organization contended that petitioner Aswhini Upadhyaya was indulging in "forum shopping".

Update: 2022-12-05 16:42 GMT

The Kerala Yuktivadi Sangham (KYS), which is a part of Kerala Rationalist Movement, a continuation of Sri Narayana Swamy reform movement in Kerala, has filed an intervention application in BJP leader and Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay's PIL relating to religious conversions.

In the application, the organisation stated that it is deeply concerned about fraternity and brotherhood of all people regardless of their faith, and hence it wishes to intervene in the PIL, which it claims is spreading "untruths" about mass forced conversion and causing hysteria so as to cause ruptures between communities.

The organisation dubbed the PIL as one based on "social media forwards, YouTube videos and Whatsapp chats", without any credible factual basis and referred to the petitioner as a "prominent member of a faith-based political party". It is contended that the petitioner has relied on unattributed sources, which he claims to have read in some newspaper reports, which have not been produced in the Court, to make "exaggerated and alarmist claims". The reality in the ground is totally different, the organization argues.

The application contends that the petitioner has been regurgitating the same petition at periodical intervals, trying his luck in different fora. 

The application states that other similar petitions have been filed by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, which were not accepted.  For instance, on 09.04.2021, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain a similar petition filed by him(WP(c) 393/2021).  The petitioner was also denied permission to make a representation before the Law Commission on the issue of forced conversion by a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices R Nariman, BR Gavai and Hrishikesh Roy. The present petition has been filed contending that the Centre has taken no action on the representation given by him in pursuance to the liberty granted to him by the Supreme Court. However, the earlier petition was simply withdrawn without any such liberty.

The application further submits that an identical Writ Petition was filed by Upadhyay in the Delhi High Court. However, on two occasions, on 03.06.2022 and 25.07.2022, a single bench expressed doubts regarding the reliefs claimed in the petiiton and refused to issue notice asking the petitioner to produce credible data and statistics. Later, after the present petition came up before the Supreme Court, he withdrew the petition in the Delhi High Court on 21.11.2022.

It is also stated that the petitioner had filed a similar petition in the Delhi High Court in 2020, which was withdrawn on 13.03.2020 after a division bench refused to entertain it. The organisation therefore contends that Upadhyay is indulging in forum-shopping by trying his luck before different benches.

Exaggerated claims of mass conversion, petitioner whipping up hysteria

It further submits that the actual facts concerning the frequency of conversions are entirely different than what has been portrayed in the petition. The application has provided with the example of the provisions of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religious Act, 2006 which was examined and struck down by the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in Evangelical Fellowship of India v. State of Himachal Pradesh, 2012, in which it was found that in the six years of the existence of the Act, only one case had been registered under it. To substantiate the application further, the applicant has also provided a survey report of the Pew Research Centre on Religious Composition of India, as per which, in 2020 out of 30,000 adults across the country, very few had switched religions since childhood. It states–

"99% of Hindus who were raised as Hindus still identify themselves as Hindus."

As per the application–

"The present Writ Petition has been filed just to sensationalise the issue and to create an unrest in the society and to gain publicity or further the political agenda of the party in which he is a leader."

The application has been filed through AoR Sumita Hazarika. 

A bench comprising Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar, which heard the matter on Monday (December 5), stated that it will not accept "technical objections" regarding the maintainability of the PIL as the issue was a "serious matter". Senior Advocate Chander Uday Singh appeared for the organisation.

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