Constitution Allows Citizens To Profess, Propagate Their Religion But It Doesn't Permit Them To Convert Others: Allahabad HC

Sparsh Upadhyay

9 July 2024 2:37 PM GMT

  • Constitution Allows Citizens To Profess, Propagate Their Religion But It Doesnt Permit Them To Convert Others: Allahabad HC

    In a significant observation, the Allahabad High Court has observed that while the Constitution of India grants citizens the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate their religion, it does not allow any citizen to convert another citizen from one religion to another. A bench of Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal further opined that the individual right to freedom of conscience,...

    In a significant observation, the Allahabad High Court has observed that while the Constitution of India grants citizens the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate their religion, it does not allow any citizen to convert another citizen from one religion to another.

    A bench of Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal further opined that the individual right to freedom of conscience, as guaranteed by the Constitution, ensures that every person has the liberty to choose, practice, and express their religious beliefs; however, this personal freedom does not extend to a collective right to proselytise, which means attempting to convert others to one's religion.

    The Constitution confers on each individual the fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate his religion. However, the individual right to freedom of conscience and religion cannot be extended to construe a collective right to proselytize; the right to religious freedom belongs equally to the person converting and the individual sought to be converted,” the Court remarked.

    The bench made these observations while rejecting Shriniwas Rav Nayak's bail plea. Nayak has been booked under Sections 3/5 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.

    The allegations in brief

    As per the allegations, on February 15, 2024, the informant was invited to co-accused Vishwanath's house, where many villagers, mostly from the Scheduled Castes community, were gathered.

    Vishwanath's brother Brijlal, the applicant, and Ravindra were also present at Vishwanath's house. They urged the informant to leave Hinduism and convert to Christianity, promising relief from pain and an improved life.

    While some villagers accepted Christianity and began praying. The informant escaped and reported the incident to the police.

    Seeking bail in the case, the accused moved the Court to contend that he had no connection with the alleged conversion and that he was a domestic help of one of the co-accused, a resident of Andhra Pradesh and had been falsely roped in in the instant case.

    His counsel argued that the FIR does not identify any "religion converter" as defined by Section 2(I)(i) of the 2021 Act. It was further submitted that the witnesses' statements alleging undue influence for conversion were unsubstantiated.

    Lastly, it was contended that no person who had converted to Christianity came forward to lodge a complaint.

    On the other hand, the AGA submitted that a case under Section 3/5 of the Act of 2021 was made out against the applicant, a Andhra Pradesh resident.

    He stated that the applicant came to the place in question, Maharajganj, where the conversion was taking place, and was actively participating in the conversion from one religion to another, which is against the law.

    High Court's observations

    Against the backdrop of these submissions, the Court noted that Section 3 of the 2021 Act clearly prohibits conversion from one religion to another based on misrepresentation, force, fraud, undue influence, coercion, and allurement.

    The Court also observed that the Act further provides for punishment for contravention of the provisions of the section, which also restricts a person from abetting, convincing, or conspiring to such conversion.

    Further, the Court stated that the Act of 2021 was enacted keeping in view Article 25 of the Constitution of India, which does not allow or permit any citizen to convert any citizen from one religion to another religion.

    In view of this, taking into account the allegations made against the Accused, the Court noted that the informant was persuaded to convert to another religion, and this was prima facie sufficient to decline bail to the applicant as it established the fact that a conversion programme was going on, and many villagers belonging to the Scheduled Castes community were being converted from Hinduism to Christianity.

    There arises no occasion as to why the informant would rope in the applicant, who is a resident of Andhra Pradesh, falsely in a case of unlawful religion conversion. Neither in the bail application nor during argument, it has been submitted that there stood any enmity between the informant and the applicant,” the Court observed.

    Further, the Court also noted that during the investigation, the Police recorded statements of independent witnesses brought on record by the State through a counter-affidavit, which clearly revealed that such a function was held in which the conversion was taking place.

    Consequently, the court denied bail to the applicant-accused, concluding that a prima facie case for unlawful religious conversion was made out under the Act of 2021.

    Also read : India's Majority Population Would Be In Minority One Day If Conversions In Religious Congregations Not Stopped: Allahabad HC

    Case title - Shriniwas Rav Nayak vs. State of U.P. 2024 LiveLaw (AB) 427

    Case Citation: 2024 LiveLaw (AB) 427

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