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Karnataka High Court Issues Notice On Plea Challenging State's Anti-Religious Conversion Ordinance

Mustafa Plumber
22 July 2022 11:09 AM GMT
Karnataka High Court Issues Notice On Plea Challenging States Anti-Religious Conversion Ordinance
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The Karnataka High Court on Friday issued notice to the State government on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of its law on Anti-Religious conversion.A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Alok Aradhe and Justice J M Khazi issued notice on a public interest litigation filed by Evanelical Fellowship of India and All Karnataka United Christian Forum For Human...

The Karnataka High Court on Friday issued notice to the State government on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of its law on Anti-Religious conversion.

A division bench of Acting Chief Justice Alok Aradhe and Justice J M Khazi issued notice on a public interest litigation filed by Evanelical Fellowship of India and All Karnataka United Christian Forum For Human Rights challenging Ordinance titled "The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022".

The court has directed the state government to file its statement of objections in four weeks time and posted the matter thereafter. The court said it would consider the prayer for interim relief after the state government files its objections.

Advocate General Prabhuling K Navadgi appeared for the state government and questioned the maintainability of the petition. However, Senior Advocate Aditya Sondhi appeared for the petitioners and submitted that, "The petitioner represents the larger interest of the christian community in the state, there is no personal interest of the petitioner. The 1st petitioner was also the petitioner before the Himachal Pradesh High Court, where a similar enactment was struck down."

Sondhi further submitted that if a person wants to convert out of marriage, out of better life style, etc. these are all bonafide reasons but now all of this has been brought within the meaning of the term allurement as defined under section 2(1)(a) of the Ordinance.

Further he referred to Section 12 and said, "It shifts the burden of proof on the person who has caused the conversion and on the abettor who aids or abets such conversion. The onus of proof shifts in cases of heinous offence against the state like offences under TADA, POTA etc. Here is an act where the burden shifts on a party who wants to convert. The entire framework is such that though it is termed as Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion, in fact it is working as an infringement of rights of freedom."

The plea says the impugned Ordinance is against the ethos of secularism. India prides itself in unity in diversity and the Impugned Ordinance is dividing people residing in the state of Karnataka on grounds of religion under the pretext of public order, causing schism in the minds of the people which outweighs the pretext of public order taken by the Respondents in enforcing the provisions of the Impugned Ordinance, it says.

"Further, Article 25 is concerning the Right to "profess" religion is necessarily a consequence to the freedom of conscience. Whereas freedom of conscience is something internal and limited to the individual concerned, profession of religion implies affirmation of one's belief and faith publicly, by words of mouth or other conduct, freedom of conscience allows a person to follow any religion of his choosing; whereas the right to profess religion entitles him publicly to state his creed if he so desires. The right to profess religion necessarily implies freedom to follow any religion or belief. No person can be compelled to profess a particular religion or be bound to remain a member of a particular sect."

It is submitted that all religious conversions that happen because of force, fraud, allurement, coercion, marriage, etc. are illegal. The State of Karnataka has no justification to imply how re-conversions cannot happen through the same means and methods. Therefore, treating 'convertor' and 're-convertor' differently is squarely violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

It is also said Section 5 (1) of the Impugned Ordinance, views all women including economically weak, marginalised, privileged women to be susceptible to illegal conversions and is a harmful cause of stereotyping women and leave them with no agency of their body and mind.

Further it is said, "Religion and marriage are matters of personal choice. The Impugned Ordinance invades into personal autonomy, free choice, freedom of religion, and unlawful discrimination and hence violative of the fundamental rights under Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25 of the Constitution."

The plea says, "The Impugned Ordinance is a legislative attempt to strengthen the sentiment that marriages solemnized between persons born to different religions is a social evil which is being perpetrated by Muslim men who marry Hindu women, and that the same poses a threat to the Hindu community."

Moreover, it is submitted that Sections 8 and 9, requires prior permission and post declaration of conversion and directly infringes the person's right to privacy among other fundamental rights under Article 19, 21 and 25 of the Constitution of India.

It is said, "The absolute liberty and freedom to choose are intrinsic to human existence. An individual, through the Impugned Ordinance, has to go through a cumbersome process and subject himself/herself to a District Magistrate and Police inquiry to exercise his/her independence."

Further, it asserts that, "The broad and vague language used by the Impugned Ordinance, specifically to the definitions under Section 2 (1) creates opportunity to hate mongerers and vigilante groups to create disruptions and target minorities. That several instances of communally motivated violence post implementation of similar laws in States like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh is a testament to this."

Thus it has prayed to declare sections 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 14 of the impugned Ordinance as unconstitutional and ultra vires Articles 14, 15, 19(1) (a), 19(1)(g), 21, 25 and 30 of the Constitution of India.

By way of interim relief it has sought to stay the operation of the Ordinance.

Case Title: EVANELICAL FELLOWSHIP OF INDIA & ANR v. STATE OF KARNATAKA and ANR

Case NO: WP 10362/2022

Appearance: Senior Advocate Dr. Aditya Sondhi, Adv. Sanbha Rumnong, Adv. Lija Merin John, Adv. Robin Christopher J and Adv. Jaiwant Patankar for petitioners.

Advocate General Prabhuling K Navadgi a/w AGA Vijay Kumar Patil for respondents

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