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'Charity Can't Be For Conversion' : Supreme Court Rejects Objections To Maintainability Of PIL Against Forced Religious Conversion
'Every charity or good work is welcome, but the intention has to be checked', the Supreme Court orally observed on Monday while hearing a petition filed by BJP leader and Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay seeking to curb forced religious conversions.
Justice MR Shah, the presiding judge of the bench, said that alluring people to convert to other religions by offering medicines and food grains is a 'very serious' issue.
"If you believe that particular persons should be helped, help them but it can't be for conversion. Allurement is very dangerous. It is a very serious issue and is against the basic structure of our Constitution. Everyone who stays in India, will have to act as per the culture of India."
"And religious harmony as well", Justice CT Ravikumar, who was also part of the Division Bench, observed.
Even wrongfully propagating (one's religion) is not allowed as per the Constitution, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said.
The real question is what the term 'propagate' means, Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for an organization( which is seeking to intervene in the matter), countered.
During the hearing, SG Mehta submitted that the Center is gathering data from the states on the issue. He also informed the Court that Gujarat, in this regard, has a stringent law against illegal conversions but the High Court has stayed some provisions, against which a separate special leave petition has been filed. The Bench said that it cannot consider the challenge against the HC order in the present PIL unless the SLP is also listed along with it.
Solicitor General told the bench that there are legislations made by several states which prescribe a mechanism with neutral committees to determine whether religious conversions are "in lieu of of grains, medicines or whether it is a real religious change of heart".
During the hearing, Senior Advocate Aravind Datar appeared for the petitioner. Seeing Datar's appearance, Justice Shah said in a lighter vein, "you have made a surprise entry".
When Datar requested the bench to asks states to file counter affidavits, the bench disagreed saying that it will delay the proceedings.
"Let Union collect material, if all the states are here then the matter will get delayed...It won't be possible because then, one state will always ask for more time", the Bench said.
When Upadhyay tried to make submissions during the course of the hearing, SG Mehta interjected.
"You can't argue when you are represented by a counsel. Let the senior counsel argue. I am particular about that kind of discipline", the SG said.
"Like religion, have faith in Mr Aravind Datar!" Bench said.
The Bench then directed the Union to file a detailed counter after obtaining necessary information from states regarding anti-conversion laws and other relevant information.
The matter will come up next on December 12.
Not Hearing Issues on Maintainability: SC
During the hearing, the Bench made it particularly clear that it was not entertaining issues with regard to maintainability of the petition. The Bench clarified this after the issue was raised twice, today.
Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde and Senior Advocate CU Singh (appearing for a rationalist group Kerala Yuktivadi Sangam, also seeking to intervene in the matter) pointed out that an earlier bench had refused to entertain a similar plea filed by Upadhyay, following which it was withdrawn. He had also approached the Delhi High Court with a similar petition. Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, appearing for a priest, also raised similar objections.
However, the Bench asked the counsel to refrain from having a technical approach.
"Don't be so technical on maintainability. This is a serious issue. We are here for solution, to set things right", Justice Shah said.
"This is the 4th identical plea by Upadhyay. SG need not support the petitioner. This is a plea which is heavily exaggerated. No material has been shown in support to show that there's an alarming situation. Similar petitions were withdrawn in the past without the liberty to approach again", CU Singh submitted.
"Any rationalist should support the petition", SG Mehta said.
"We are at final disposal stage. We will not enter into the question of maintainability", the bench said.
Case Title: Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay v. UoI And Ors | WP(C) No. 63/2022 PIL