AG Venkataramani directed by Supreme Court to assist it in PIL against forced religious conversion

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The instant plea, in the alternative, sought a direction to the Law Commission to prepare a Bill to control 'deceitful religious conversion' in the spirit of Articles 14, 21 and 25, within three months. 

In the plea seeking directions to the Centre and States for taking stringent steps to control fraudulent religious conversion and conversion by intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits and also by using black magic, superstition, and miracles, the Supreme Court on Monday directed Attorney General for India R Venkataramani, to assist the court in the matter.

A division bench of Justices MR Shah and CT Ravikumar also changed the case title of the PIL filed by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay as "In Re : Issue of religious conversion" and adjourned the matter to February 7 for further consideration. 

During the hearing, Court referred to the issue before it as a "serious matter".

"We want your assistance, as the Attorney General for India. Allegations are being made. We are not opining whether it has actually happened or not. If actually it is happening, because there is a difference between right to freedom of religion and right to convert, then what should be done? What are the corrective measures?", the Bench asked the AG, who assured that he would get back after examining the case records.

Senior Advocate P Wilson appearing for the State of Tamil Nadu highlighted before Court that since the petitioner was a BJP member, the plea was politically motivated.

The bench responded to these submissions by telling Wilson to not bring a political color. Court added that even if the petitioner was a man from the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bench would still go into the matter.

On the other hand, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for Upadhyay submitted before the bench that there was nothing under the Indian Penal Code regarding the punishment for forced religious conversion.

In his plea, Upadhyay has also sought a declaration that fraudulent religious conversion and religious conversion by intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits offend Articles 14, 21, 25 of the Constitution.

The Top Court had issued notice to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Law and Justice in the plea in September last year.

Upadhyay filed the instant plea also seeking investigation into the root cause of the death of 17-year-old Lavanya, who died of suicide and on January 19, 2022, in Thanjavur Tamil Nadu, allegedly on account of pressure & harassment to convert to Christianity.

He submitted that "Lavanya’s untimely demise is a wake-up call. It reminds people of evangelists’ imperialistic goals. Indeed, it reminds people of how an elaborate plan has been used to uproot Hinduism-Secularism through time. In fact, many more Lavanyas have been compelled to take such drastic measures as a result of such coercive-persuasive tactics."

Upadhyay alleged, "that a section of media and even the Tamil Nadu government seem to be determined to remove the conversion angle from the story." 

"After the dying declaration, it was highlighted that the girl had lost her biological mother and it was her stepmother who had clashed with school authorities when the girl was asked to convert," the plea further added.

The plea further alleged that there was not even one district that is free of religious conversion by ‘hook and crook and the carrot and the stick’.