Christian missionaries not doing anything illegal: Tamil Nadu Govt tells Supreme Court

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The state government has called the petition filed by Ashwini Upadhyay seeking CBI probe into forceful conversions, a "religiously motivated litigation" and that he has used the court process to "abuse other religions"

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) led government from the state of Tamil Nadu has told Supreme Court that there is nothing illegal about christian missionaries propagating their religious beliefs.

While highlighting that parts of the petition filed by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay seeking CBI probe into forceful religious conversions in the country are about the role of Christian Missionaries and their preaching methods in order to convert people to Christianity, the state has said this is something which cannot be seen as against the law. "Article 25 of the Constitution of India guarantees every citizen the right to propagate his religion. Therefore, the acts of missionaries spreading Christianity by itself cannot be seen as something against law," the government states. 

Upadhyay filed the 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".

In this regard, the state government has said that the there has been no case of religious conversion done forcefully within the state over the past many years.

"As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, there has been no incidents of forceful conversion reported in the past many years. The allegations raised by the petitioner in these paragraphs are alleged to have been taken place only in certain tribal areas in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and India's Hindi belt and therefore even according to the petitioner, it does not apply to the State of Tamil Nadu," it is stated.

The state government has further said that Mr. Upadhyay is simply targeting Christian missionaries who have every right to practice, profess and propagate their religious beliefs as per the Constitution of India.

"Article 25 protects the rights of all persons to enjoy the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. The state shall have the responsibilities to take measures against persons who deliberately and maliciously intend to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting their religion or religious beliefs," the government has averred, adding that the allegations of the petitioner that there are incidents of forceful conversions reported "every week" is without any basis or proof.

Further, the plea has stated that citizens are at liberty to choose any religion they want to follow and Upadhyay's petition is against secularism, which is part of basic structure of the constitution, and is thus, liable to be rejected outrightly.

Top Court issued notice in the plea last year and sought replies from the state governments and centre, including the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

Justices MR Shah & CT Ravikumar had observed that forceful conversions are a very important issue and needs to be investigated.

Notably, on January 31, 2022, Madras High Court transferred the investigation in the Lavanya death case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The death of the child is alleged to be a suicide over suspicion of a fraudulent and forceful religious conversion.

The High Court found merit in the contention of the petitioner- the father of the late minor girl said, that instead of finding out the truth, the police had been trying to bolster the counter narrative of the stepmother's harassment angle towards her.