By Anish Padhye
The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice M.R Shah and Justice S. Ravindra Bhatt on Tuesday (i.e., 13th December 2022) guaranteed Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appearing for certain Christian organizations that his arguments will be heard on the next hearing date. But Mr. Dave insisted on contending his submissions during the same hearing claiming that it sets a terrible precedent when the Supreme Court of India allows a plea by minority institutions in a matter pertaining to religious conversions to go uncontested. The bench is hearing a PIL filed by BJP politician and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay directing the Union Government to form a set of rules and regulations to resolve the issue of ‘mass religious conversions’.
The petitioner, Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay who is known as the serial litigator from the BJP had filed similar PILs in courts even before but they were rejected, in January 2022 significantly by a SC bench headed by then CJI N.V Ramana on the basis that it was not backed by evidence. But the bench of Justices Shah and Bhatt listed the matter in September 2022 considering it to be a ‘serious issue’. Upadhyay has claimed that Hindu population has diminished from 86% in 2001 to 79% in 2011. If this trend continues, the petition states that “Hindus shall gradually become a minority in India.” By convoluting this data with religious conversions, Upadhyay has submitted that forced religious conversion is a nationwide problem that needs to be tackled immediately. The petition quotes- “The injury caused to the citizens is extremely large because there is not even one district which is free of religious conversion by ‘hook and crook’”. Subsequently, while hearing the PIL, a rationalist group from Kerela along with 2 other applicants challenged the maintainability of the petition by highlighting that conversion is a ‘fundamental right to profess another faith’. But the bench stipulated them not to be ‘technical’ and directed the Centre to collect information on steps incorporated by States to mitigate the issue.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta while submitting a formal affidavit on behalf of GoI termed conversions as a ‘national menace’. The affidavit surprisingly suggests that ‘right to convert’ is exclusionary to Article 25 of the Constitution which accords right to profess, practice and propagate religion of one’s choice as a fundamental right. Thereafter, this affidavit provoked academician Dr. Sakhi John counseled by Advocate Manoj George to apply for an intervention in the hearing who contends that “… to say that the entire Christian and Muslim community is practicing deceitful means to convert Hindus to their faith is objectionable and untruth.”
Among numerous other intervention applications, Sen Adv. Dave sought expungement of ‘distasteful and vexatious remarks’ made against minorities in the petition which the bench rightfully ordered. The SC has adjourned next proceeding to January 9 while awaiting another affidavit from the Central government.