NEW DELHI: Terming forced religious conversions as a “very serious” issue, the Supreme Court on November 14 directed the Centre to “step in” and make sincere efforts to check the practice.
“This is a very serious matter. Sincere efforts are to be made by the Centre to stop forced conversions,” a Bench of Justices MR Shah and Hima Kohli said.
Warning that a “very difficult situation” will emerge if forced religious conversions are not stopped, the Supreme Court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to enumerate measures to curb the practice.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking direction to the Centre and states to take stringent steps to control fraudulent religious conversion by “intimidation, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits”. The issue of forced conversions is not a new one and was debated in the Constituent Assembly also. Severest state legislatures have sought to curb the malpractice through legislation, but with limited results.
Some of these laws, such as those passed by Odisha and Madhya Pradesh Assemblies, have been challenged in the apex court on the ground that they violated to freedom to practice one’s religion. However, the court held that they did not violate any provision of the Constitution.
Unfortunately, despite legal prohibition, religious conversions through use of force and allurements continue. As the Solicitor General told the Supreme Court, forced religious conversions are rampant in tribal areas. The top court observed there may be freedom of religion but there cannot be freedom of religion by forced conversion.