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SHAUTS illegal conversion: SC grants interim bail to Vice Chancellor, other senior officials charged with coercing individuals into adopting Christianity

The Supreme Court on Friday (1st March) granted anticipatory bail to the Vice Chancellor and senior officials of the Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture Technology and Science (SHUATS) in an illegal mass religious conversion case.

A bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra also declared the court’s previous protection order effective, providing relief to the officials involved.

Notably, in December 2023, a vacation bench of the Supreme Court of India delayed the Allahabad High Court’s judgment instructing the Vice Chancellor and other officials of SHAUTS to surrender to the court by December 20, 2023. The SC also granted interim protection from arrest to the SHAUTS University VC, the Director, and the accused professors.

In the same order, the High Court declined to dismiss a formal complaint against the Vice Chancellor and other officials for allegedly using their positions as well as other inducements to force a woman to become a Christian.

Notably, in its contested ruling, the High Court emphasized that no true religious body would tolerate such malpractices. The bench, comprised of Justice Rahul Chaturvedi and Justice Mohd. Azhar Husain Idrisi stated that no legitimate religious institution, whether a church, temple, or mosque, would condone such wrongdoing by priests or spiritual leaders.

“No God or true Church or Temple or Mosque would approve such type of malpractices. If someone on his own, has chosen to get him converted to a different religion, it is totally another aspect of the issue. In the instant case prevailing upon a tender mind of a young girl providing gifts, clothing, and other physical amenities and then asking her to get her baptized is an unpardonable sin,” said the high court.

The FIR, filed in November 2023, claimed that the victim, a lower-middle-class woman, was enticed into Christianity through presents and clothing, with the accused, including the SHUATS VC, reportedly pressuring her to bring more women for conversion and unlawful activity. The victim claimed she was also subjected to frequent sexual exploitation.

The court found that the victim, encouraged by a senior clergyman, was duped into adopting Christianity in exchange for steady employment. Despite the accused’s claim that the victim concocted the narrative in retaliation for her job loss in 2022, the court considered the charges serious and terrifying.

UP police had aggressively resisted any form of compensation for them, claiming that they had acquired more than Rs 34 crores from several foreign countries and utilized it for unlawful conversion.

“During the course of Investigation, it has been found that since 2005 around Rs 34,44,54,855.00 has been received in the FCRA account of SHUATS from various countries including USA, Afghanistan, Japan, Libya Iraq, Germany, Canada, Guyana, Uganda, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Netherlands, Philippines, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Australia, Nepal, Bhutan and Nigeria,” it had told top court.

While legal procedures continue, the Supreme Court’s issuance of anticipatory bail provides temporary relief to the Vice Chancellor and other SHUATS officials.

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