Forced conversion to imperil national security

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said that forced religious conversion may pose a danger to national security and impinge on the religious freedom of citizens. The apex court warned a “very difficult situation” will emerge if proselytisation through deception, allurement and intimidation is not stopped and asked the Centre to step in and make sincere efforts to tackle the “very serious” issue.

“The issue with respect to the alleged conversion of religion, if it is found to be correct and true, is a very serious issue which may ultimately affect the security of the nation as well as the freedom of religion and conscience of the citizens,” the court said.

The apex 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”.

Upadhyay submitted in his plea that forced religious conversion is a nationwide problem which needs to be tackled immediately.

“The injury caused to the citizens is extremely large because there is not even one district which is free of religious conversion by ‘hook and crook’,” the plea submitted.

While the Church has mostly been accused of proselytisation, the population of the Christian community relative to the country’s population has either been static or been on the decline since 1971.

As per the 1971 Census, Christians population stood at 2.6 per cent of India’s population. This figure came down to 2.3 per cent by 2001.

However, there is no official update on the population on religious lines.

The court said it is better that the Union Government makes its stand clear and file counters on what steps could be taken by Union and/or others to curb such forced conversion, maybe by force, allurement or fraudulent means,” said a bench of Justices MR Shah and Hima Kohli.

The court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to explain measures to curb the practice. “This is a very serious matter. Sincere efforts are to be made by the Centre to stop forced conversions. Otherwise a very difficult situation will come. Tell us what action do you propose….You have to step in,” the bench observed.

Mehta said that the issue was debated even in the Constituent Assembly.

“There were two Acts. One was by the Odisha Government and other one by Madhya Pradesh dealing with regulation of any forcible conversion by deceit, falsehood or fraud, money. These issues came before this court for consideration and the top court upheld the validity,” Mehta said,

adding forced religious conversions are rampant in tribal areas.

“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.

The plea has also sought directions to the Law Commission of India to prepare a report as well as a Bill to control religious conversion by intimidation and through monetary benefit.