[Anti-conversion laws] Supreme Court takes note of pleas pending before various HCs; directs filing of transfer petition

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Ten days back, Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind had moved the Supreme Court against the laws promulgated for the prohibition of “love jihad” and other modes of unlawful religious conversion, stating that the laws enacted for the prohibition of unlawful religious conversion can be used to prosecute any person who is in a stronger position vis-a-vis the converted person.

While hearing pleas challenging the anti-conversion laws of various states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and others, the Supreme Court has ordered that a transfer petition shall be filed before it, for the purpose of transferring all litigation pending before the High Courts across the country.

Notably, Jamiata Ulama-I-Hind had recently moved the Supreme Court against the laws promulgated for the prohibition of “love jihad” and other modes of unlawful religious conversion.

The laws were made to keep a check on the mischief of religious conversion by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any other fraudulent means.

The plea stated that the said laws force a person to disclose his faith and thereby invade into the privacy of a person. It submits that the compulsory disclosure of one’s religion in any form amounts to violation of the right to manifest his/her beliefs as the said right includes the right not to manifest one’s beliefs.

The petition has been filed against the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition Of Unlawful Conversion Of Religion Act, 2021, the Uttarakhand Freedom Of Religion Act, 2018, the Himachal Pradesh Freedom Of Religion Act, 2019, the Madhya Pradesh Freedom Of Religion Act, 2021 and the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021.

When the matter was taken up by the Top Court, CJI DY Chandrachud questioned as to what the stage of the proceedings before these High Courts was.

He was thus informed by Senior Advocate, Indira Jaising, appearing on behalf of one of the petitioners, that the matters were at various stages. Jaising also provided the court with the number of pleas pending before each high court.

"There are 7 High Courts before which cases are pending. Before us, there are three writ petitions challenging the laws from various states. Would you like to bring all those petitions here?", the CJI then asked.

To this, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, responded saying, "Your lordship can pass an order transferring them here, it has been done before.."

At this juncture, AG Venkataramani, who was directed to appear before Court to assist it in a related matter, submitted that the matters should not be leap frogging from the High Courts, as they are already hearing them.

"We will hear the states, we are not transferring these matters as yet", the bench then said.

Accordingly, the bench also comprising Justices Narasimha and Pardiwala ordered that in view of the pendency of matters before various High Courts, a transfer petition shall be filed before it, and asked for the matter to be listed after two weeks.

When the PIL filed by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, 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, was called out for hearing while hearing the challenge to various anti-conversion laws, the Supreme Court was told by Senior Advocate Arvind Datar, that the plea was against fraudulent religious conversion, and thus on a different footing which emanated from the death of a 17-year old girl in Tamil Nadu.

Intervening while Datar was making his submissions, Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde, told Court that Datar was directed to amend the petition, as there were very scurrilous allegations in that plea against Muslims and Christians.

CJI Chandrachud thus asked Datar to make those changes to his plea.

Also, referring to the prayer made by Upadhyay seeking a direction to the Law Commission to look into it, the provisions of IPC, Court said, "Mr. Datar, before the Law Commission decides on the creation of a law, it must hear from us, if the existing law in these states is proper or not.."

It is to be noted that on January 11, a Justice Shah led bench had directed AG Venkataramani to assist court in the matter and changed the case title of PIL filed by Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay as "In Re: Issue of religious conversion" and adjourned it to Feb 7 for further consideration.

However, the matter came to be listed yesterday before a CJI led bench with the updated case title.