The Delhi High Court on Friday observed that petitions about religious conversions based on information gathered from newspapers, WhatsApp and social media cannot be examined, Bar and Bench reported.

“Newspaper, WhatsApp, social media may or may not contain facts but they can’t be basis for petition,” the court said.

The court held that it is an individual’s prerogative and constitutional right to choose their own religion and to convert if they wish to.

Allegations of someone being forced to convert need sufficient evidence to substantiate such claims, and require deeper consideration, the court said.

“Social media is not data,” said a bench of Justices Sanjeev Sachdeva and Tushar Rao Gedela, according to Bar and Bench. “Things can be morphed there. Conversion is not prohibited. It is the right of a person to profess any religion or chose any religion. That is the constitutional right”

The court was hearing a petition filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Upadhyay seeking directions to the Centre and Delhi government, to prohibit religious conversion through “intimidation, threats, or through use of black magic and superstitions”, Bar and Bench reported.

The petition stated that the “carrot and stick” method of forced religious conversion is against principles of secularism and violates Articles 14 (right to equality), 15 (prohibition of discrimination), 21 (right to personal liberty) and 25 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution, NDTV reported.

The court on Friday asked Upadhyay to amend his petition by providing statistics and data on forced conversions in India.

“What is the material on record?” the court asked according to NDTV. “There is nothing, no documentation, not one instance given by you...Where are the statistics? How many conversions happened? Who converted? You say mass conversion is happening, where is the number?”

The matter has been listed for further hearing on July 25.

Several BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have already enacted anti-conversion laws, citing “love jihad”.

“Love jihad” is a conspiracy theory espoused by Hindutva activists, claiming that Muslim men lure Hindu women to marry them in order to later convert them to Islam.

The term is being used despite the BJP-led Centre’s statement in Lok Sabha in February 2020 that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies. The National Commission for Women does not maintain any data about “love jihad” either.