Forced Conversions and the stance of the Supreme Court

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right in India. Therefore, it is unconstitutional to force anyone for anything. The same is true regarding Conversion. In the past, religious conversions took place voluntarily after people were fed up with the oppressive customs, traditions and persecutions of their original religion.

There are many examples of individual conversions taking place due to the disadvantages inherent in the financial condition of the poor. Mass and individual conversions have also taken place. But now, conversions are taking place by trapping girls in the name of ‘Love Jihad’. The question put by the Supreme Court to the Union Government about forced conversions is very significant.

1. Petitioner’s demand against Conversions and Supreme Court’s warning

In a petition filed in the Supreme Court, it was demanded that illegal conversions under duress should be declared a Constitutional offence. The petition referred to the case of a girl living in a Christian hostel in Tamil Nadu. The petitioner said that the girl had written in a note before her death that she was forced to convert. Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay demanded in the petition that strict action be taken against the incidents of conversions through inducement, pressure or threats.

‘The Law Commission should be asked to submit a report to control religious conversions. A Law can be enacted to prevent cases of conversion by force, threats and persuasion. Inducement or forced conversions are a serious matter’, argued the petitioner Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay. The Supreme Court said that the issues raised and the allegations of forced conversion, if they are true, then it is a serious matter and ultimately it can affect the security of the country. The Supreme Court said that this affects the ‘right to religious freedom’ of the people of the country. In such a situation, the Union Government should clear its stand. The Union Government should give an affidavit and tell what steps it is taking to stop the alleged forced conversions.

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution regards the freedom to practice, profess and propagate a religion of choice as a fundamental right guaranteed to every citizen.

2. Incidents caused by forced and lured Conversions

On the one hand, the Union Government is encouraging inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, while on the other, undue advantage is being taken of this and girls are being trapped in love and then forced to convert.

The incidents in Shrirampur and Kolhapur in Maharashtra are an indication of this. The shocking incident of Shraddha Walkar from Vasai being taken to Delhi and cut into pieces came to light recently. Although voluntary conversions have been taking place in tribal areas for many years now, cases of coercion along with lure and fraud have increased. It has become a big political gimmick.

The way BJP MLA Nitesh Rane has raised his voice against ‘Love Jihad’, made the Police take note of the matter. In most cases, it has been revealed that the Hindu girls were cheated and then forcibly converted. In Shrirampur, a Hindu boy fell in love with a Muslim girl, and the boy himself was killed.

3. Conversions in Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand, and the Laws against it

Eight States in India have Laws against forced conversions, but there is still no Law against it at the National level. Therefore, the Supreme Court asked the Union Government about its role and what was it doing to enact a Law against it. Most cases of conversion have taken places in Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand.

Over the decades, Christian missionaries in these States have forced tribal communities to convert to Christianity by luring them or spreading superstitions. According to the Census data, the population of Christians has increased in the tribal areas of these States since 1991. This is the result of conversions. While these three States have Laws against conversions, it does not apply to voluntary conversions due to complexities in the Law.

4. BJP’s Prabal Pratap Singh Judev’s ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign in Chhattisgarh

No action can be taken against the concerned people or institution unless there is a complaint that the conversion was done by luring, fraud or force. Jashpur District of Chhattisgarh, bordering Jharkhand and Odisha, is the largest tribal area with the largest number of conversions. A vast number of tribals here have converted to Christianity as a result of lure or superstition. Thus, the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign is being implemented on a large scale here to bring the people back to the fold of Hindu Dharma.

Many organisations such as Arya Samaj, BJP, RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and those affiliated to RSS have participated in this campaign. BJP leader Prabal Pratap Singh Judev is leading the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign in this area. His father and former Union Minister Dilip Singh Judev started this ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign in 1986. After the death of his father, Prabal Pratap Singh assumed this responsibility in 2013.

5. Hypocrisy of Christians who cheat and convert

Christians in eastern Uttar Pradesh say that Hindu organisations try to shut down their prayer meetings by using force and violence, yet the Police only arrest Christians. Looking at the events of the past few years, attacks on Christian prayer meetings have increased to such an extent that these meetings are now held more often in houses rather than in the open or in Churches.

Arun Pannalal, President of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, said, “Police make false accusations and imprison us. Most cases of atrocities take place here. The failure of the Government system is a matter of concern. Congress has been in power in Chhattisgarh for the past 4 years, but it is worth noting that it does not lag behind the BJP-ruled States when it comes to persecution of Christians”.

The United Christian Forum collects information on the attacks on Christians and their places of worship. It also has a helpline for victims. This organisation had submitted a report in February 2021. As per the report, there were 486 violent incidents related to Christians and Churches across the country in 2021, which is 74% more than in the year 2020.

6. Important remarks made by the Supreme Court regarding Conversions

‘The Union Government must take precautionary measures to prevent conversions. If this is not done, ‘very difficult situation’ will emerge. What steps should be taken to prevent conversions ? And what has the Government done so far ?’, the Supreme Court asked the Union Government.

The petition was filed on 23rd September 2021 by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay. The Union and all the State Governments were made defendants in the petition. He requested the Supreme Court to direct the Union Government to make strict legal provisions to prevent forced and fraudulent conversions.

An application has been filed in the Supreme Court demanding an inquiry into the death of a 17-year-old girl in Tamil Nadu. Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay has said in his application that under Articles 14, 21 and 25 of the Constitution, conversion by fraud, threat or intimidation should be declared a crime. The petition has sought issuance of show cause notices to the National Investigating Agency (NIA), the CBI and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in connection with the death of the 17-year-old girl. In the application filed in the Supreme Court, it has been said that illegal religious conversion done under pressure should be declared a crime under the Constitution.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court, “Odisha and Madhya Pradesh have enacted Laws to prevent forced conversions or inducements and the Supreme Court has upheld the validity of those Laws. Forceful conversions are taking place in tribal areas. Many State Governments have enacted Laws to prevent such conversions. There are also many examples of conversions being carried out by giving free rice and wheat”.

– Bhaga Varkhade (Courtesy : News website of Daily ‘Navrashtra’, 20.11.2022)

The Government must take measures to prevent conversions. If this is not done, a ‘very difficult situation’ will emerge !