Religious Freedom Doesn't Include Collective Right to Convert Others: Allahabad HC

Read Time: 06 minutes


Court said that the right to religious freedom belongs equally to the person converting and the individual sought to be converted

The Allahabad High Court recently observed that while people in India have the right to freely practice and propagate their faith, this does not imply a collective right to convert others. Court affirmed that both the person choosing to convert and the individual being converted possess equal entitlement to religious freedom under the Constitution.

"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 sought to be converted," said the bench of Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal.

Further, court emphasised that the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, was enacted with the intention of upholding this constitutional provision against unlawful religious conversions.

Court was dealing with a bail application filed by one Shriniwas Rav Nayak involved in a case registered under Sections 3/5 (1) of Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 at Nichlaul police station at Maharajganj district. 

According to the FIR, the informant was invited to co-accused Vishwanath's house, where many villagers, mostly from Scheduled Castes, were present. Vishwanath, his brother Brijlal, Shriniwas Rav Nayak, and Ravindra urged him to convert to Christianity, promising relief from his troubles and a better life. Some villagers had already converted and started praying. The informant made an excuse, left, and reported the incident to the police.

The bail applicant's counsel argued that he had no involvement in the alleged conversion, was merely a domestic help for one of the co-accused, and is from Andhra Pradesh. The counsel claimed the FIR does not identify any converter as per the 2021 Act and that witness statements cannot be trusted since there was no undue influence. Additionally, no one who converted to Christianity has lodged a complaint.

Court noted that the Constitution envisages and permits its citizens right to freedom of religion in respect to their professing, practising and propagating its religion, however, it does not allow or permit any citizen to convert any citizen from one religion to another religion.

Court stated that in this case, the police recorded statements from independent witnesses, documented by the State in a counter affidavit, confirming that a conversion event had indeed taken place.

"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 religion conversion. Neither in the bail application nor during argument, it has been submitted that there stood any enmity between the informant and the applicant," court said and rejected the bail plea. 

Case Title: Shriniwas Rav Nayak v. State of U.P.