Religious conversions should not be given political colour, says India’s top court

India’s Supreme Court has said that religious conversion is a “serious issue” which should not be given a “political colour”.

This comes amid a spate of incidents of targeted attacks on Christians, churches and missionaries across the country around Christmas over allegations of forced conversions.

On Monday, a bench of Justices M R Shah and C T Ravikumar was hearing a case filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking direction to the federal and state governments to take tough steps to control fraudulent religious conversions.

Mr Upadhyay is also a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The plea said that forced religious conversions is a nationwide problem which needs to be addressed immediately.

“Incidents are reported every week throughout the country where conversion is done by intimidating, threatening, deceivingly luring through gifts and monetary benefits and also by using black magic, superstition, miracles but Centre and States have not taken stringent steps to stop this menace,” said the plea, according to news agency Press Trust of India.

Appearing for the state of Tamil Nadu, senior advocate P Wilson said that the matter should be left to the legislatures to decide as the plea appeared to be politically motivated.

“Don’t bring a political colour. Please keep it aside. You can place what you want on record”, the bench said.

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The court invited the country’s attorney general (AG) R Venkataramani to assist in the plea seeking to curb forceful and deceitful religious conversions.

Calling the issue of religious conversions a “serious matter”, Justice Shah said: “We want the assistance of the Attorney General also, it is a very serious matter.”

The court also invited the AG’s assistance in hearing the plea.

“We want your assistance also, AG. Religious conversions by force, allurement etc. There are ways and ways, anything by allurement, if that is happening, when what should be done? What are the corrective measures?” the bench said.

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At an earlier hearing, the Gujarat state government had told the top court that freedom of religion does not include the right to convert others, and requested it to vacate a high court stay on the provision of a state law that mandates prior permission of the district magistrate for conversion through marriage.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court, on 23 September, sought responses from the federal government and others to the plea. Indian constitution guarantees the freedom of religion.

Last month, a series of vandalism incidents were reported across the country around Christmas.

A church was vandalised and a statue of baby Jesus was left damaged in Karnataka state’s Mysuru on 27 December.

On 26 December a police complaint was filed against a Christian pastor in the northern Uttar Pradesh (UP) state after a right-wing activist alleged in his complaint that the pastor was “enticing” a crowd of 100 people to “convert to Christianity”.

Over a 100 tribal Christians in the central Chhattisgarh state had to take shelter in a stadium amid reports of attack on the community.

Last April, for the third year in a row, the United States Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF) recommended the US state department designate India as a “country of particular concern” for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.