Freedom of religion does not include a fundamental right to convert people to other faiths, the Union government told the Supreme Court on Monday, PTI reported.
The Centre made the statement in a short affidavit filed in response to a petition by advocate and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. The petitioner has sought directions to the Union and state governments to take steps to prevent black magic, superstition and forceful religious conversions.
The affidavit, filed through the deputy secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, said that the government was aware of the seriousness of the matter. The official said that the demands made in the petition would be taken up “in all seriousness” by the government.
“It is submitted that the right to freedom of religion does not include a fundamental right to convert other people to a particular religion,” the Centre said. “The said right certainly does not include the right to convert an individual through fraud, deception, coercion, allurement or other such means.”
The government said that fradulent or induced conversion impinges on the right to freedom of conscience of an individual, according to PTI. It added that the Supreme Court has already held that the word “propagate” under Article 25 of the Constitution does not refer to the right to convert a person, but a right to spread one’s religion by speaking about its tenets.
The constitutional provision states that all persons have the right to freely “profess, practise and propagate religion”.
The Supreme Court told the Centre to file a detailed affidavit with information from state governments about steps taken on the matter, Live Law reported. The case will be heard next on December 5.
Upadhyay, in his petition, contended that the victims of forced or fraudulent conversions are often socially and economically underprivileged, particularly belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
The petition said that such practices not only offend Articles 14 (equality before law), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty), 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Constitution, but are also against the principles of secularism, which is an integral part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
In the previous hearing of the case on November 14, the court had described forced conversions as a “serious issue” and had told the Centre to make its stand clear on the matter.