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Persons Above 18 Free to Choose Religion, SC Observes Rejecting Plea to Bar Religious Conversion

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A three-judge bench terms the PIL as ‘publicity interest litigation’ and warns the petitioner of ‘heavy cost’

NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a plea to bar religious conversion and warned the petitioner of fine saying “what kind of writ petition is this under Article 32. We will impose a heavy cost on you. You argue on your own risk.”

A bench of Justices R.F. Nariman, B.R. Gavai and Hrishikesh Roy observed that persons above 18 years of age are free to choose their religion. The observation was made while the bench refused to entertain a plea seeking directions to the Centre and states to control black magic and religious conversion.

The bench told senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayana, appearing for petitioner advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, there is no reason why a person above 18 can’t be allowed to choose their religion. It further told Gopal Sankaranarayana, “there is a reason why the word propagate is there in the Constitution”.

According to Live Law, the judges also observed that the Public Interest Litigation was nothing but a “publicity interest litigation”, which was of a “harmful kind”.

Sankaranarayanan sought liberty to withdraw the petition and permission to make representation to the government and the law commission. According to PTI news agency, the bench also refused to grant permission to a representation to the law commission and said, “no we can’t grant you this permission.”

It dismissed the petition as withdrawn. The plea filed by Ashwini Upadhyay has also sought directions to ascertain the feasibility of appointing a committee to enact a Conversion of Religion Act to check the “abuse of religion.”

The PIL alleged that incidents of forceful religious conversion by “carrot and stick”, use of black magic, etc., are reported every week throughout the country. According to the petitioner, the victims of such forceful conversions were often socially and economically underprivileged people, particularly belonging to the SC-ST. Therefore, it was contended that it not only offended Articles 14, 21, 25 of the Constitution, but was also against the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of basic structure of the Constitution. It was additionally alleged that the Government has failed to take any concrete action against these menaces of the society.

The plea alleged that religious conversion by “carrot and stick” and by “hook or crook” not only offends Articles 14, 21, 25, but is also against the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution.

“Petitioner states with dismay that the Centre and states have failed to control the menace of black magic, superstition and deceitful religious conversion, though it is their duty under Article 51A,” said the plea filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey.

Alleging that the government has failed to take any concrete action against them, the plea said the Centre may enact a law with minimum imprisonment of 3 years that may extend up to 10 years and a hefty fine may be imposed.

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