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HomeEditor's picksRight to freedom of religion doesn't encompass the right to convert others: Allahabad HC

Right to freedom of religion doesn’t encompass the right to convert others: Allahabad HC

The Allahabad High Court recently announced that the freedom of Indians to freely practice and spread their faith does not entail a collective right to convert others. The court upheld the same constitutional right to religious freedom for both the person deciding to convert and the one being converted. Judge Rohit Ranjan Agarwal’s bench further stated that every person has the freedom to choose, practice and express their religious beliefs owing to the constitution’s guarantee of individual freedom of conscience, however, this right does not apply to the collective right to proselytize, which is the act of trying to convert others to one’s religion.

He conveyed, “The Constitution confers on each individual the fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate his religion. However, the individual right to freedom of conscience and religion cannot be extended to construe a collective right to proselytize; the right to religious freedom belongs equally to the person converting and the individual seeking to be converted.”

The court further emphasized that the purpose of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 was to protect the constitutional prohibition against unauthorised religious conversions. The court was considering a bail request submitted by a person named Shriniwas Rav Nayak in connection with a case that was filed at the Nichlaul police station in the Maharajganj district under Sections 3/5 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.

The informant was invited to co-accused Vishwanath’s home on 15th February, where a large number of villagers mostly from Scheduled Castes were present, according to the First Information Report. Ravindra, Vishwanath, his brother Brijlal (the applicant) and Shriniwas Rav Nayak persuaded him to abandon Hinduism and become a Christian by luring him with the promise of a better life and an end to his problems. A few locals had already embraced Christianity and begun to pray. After making an excuse, the informant called the police to report the occurrence.

Legal representation for the bail applicant contended that his client from Andhra Pradesh was not involved in the purported conversion and was only providing domestic assistance to one of the co-accused. The attorney added that there was no undue influence and the witness statements could not be believed because the official complaint did not name any converter per the 2021 Act. Furthermore, no one who became a Christian has complained.

Additional government advocate mentioned that the applicant arrived at the location, Maharajganj, where the conversion was happening, and was actively involved in the illegal act of converting from one religion to another. The court highlighted, “The Constitution clearly envisages and permits its citizens right to freedom of religion in respect to their professing, practising and propagating its religion. It does not allow or permit any citizen to convert any citizen from one religion to another religion.”

The court pointed out that Section 3 of the 2021 Act expressly forbids conversion to another religion on the grounds of deception, compulsion, fraud, undue influence and seduction. It stated that the Act forbids aiding, abetting or collaborating to such conversion and stipulates penalties for violating the section’s prohibitions. The court further declared that the Act was passed with consideration for Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits any citizen from converting another citizen to their own religion.

Considering the accusations levelled against the accused, the court observed that the informant had been coerced into converting to a different religion. This alone was sufficient grounds for denying the applicant bail, as it demonstrated that a conversion program was underway, including several Scheduled Castes villagers being converted from Hinduism to Christianity. The court ruled that in this instance, the state’s counter-affidavit, which was supported by the police’s recordings of comments from unaffiliated witnesses, proved that a conversion event had transpired.

It pronounced, “In the instant case, the informant was persuaded to convert to another religion, which is prima facie sufficient to decline bail to the applicant as it establishes that a conversion programme was going on where many villagers belonging to Scheduled Castes community were being converted from Hindu religion to Christianity. There arises no occasion as to why the informant would rope in the applicant, who is a resident of Andhra Pradesh, falsely in a case of unlawful religious conversion. Neither in the bail application nor during the argument, it has been submitted that there stood any enmity between the informant and the applicant.”

As a result, the court decided that there was sufficient evidence to establish an illicit religious conversion under the Act of 2021 and denied bail to the applicant-accused.

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