The Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition that sought a federal law to check religious conversion and black magic. The top court on April 9 stated that persons above the age of 18 years have the freedom to choose their religion and dismissed a plea seeking directions to the federal government to introduce a nationwide law against religious conversion. The petition in the form of public interest litigation was filed by a Supreme Court lawyer, Ashwini Upadhyay. A bench consisting of Justices R.F. Nariman, B.R. Gavai, and Hrishikesh Roy did not agree with the demand. The petitioner was asked to withdraw the petition and was threatened with the imposition of heavy costs if he persisted with it. The bench explained that the constitution of India allows a citizen of 18 years of age the freedom to join a religion of choice. Any law formed against conversion will go against the constitutional provisions. Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who was the counsel for the petitioner, then sought liberty to withdraw the petition and to make representation to the government and the law commission. The bench refused to grant permission to approach the law commission and dismissed the petition as withdrawn. Father Babu Joseph, who is the former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India said that the directions of the court are “in the right spirit” of the constitution. It guarantees every citizen the right to profess, practice, and propagate a religion of their choice, said Father Babu Joseph, former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. He further stated that the verdict has come at the right time as pro-Hindu groups clamor for the enforcement of a national law to ban conversion while accusing Christian missionaries of adopting fraudulent means to convert the socially poor Dalit and tribal people.” Supreme Court lawyer Govind Yadav said that the court’s decision has upheld the constitutional provisions that ensure religious freedom, which include conversion and propagation. Religion and faith are issues of personal convictions of an individual and cannot be governed by any law, rather they draw strength from the constitution directly, said, Govind Yadav. A law can be enacted to deal with matters that deal with external functions, not internal. If a government enforces a nationwide law to restrict religious freedom, there will be more problems than solutions. Eight Indian states have laws to contain religious conversion, with the Christian and Muslim groups being often targeted with these laws. Upadhyay’s petition mentioned that religious conversion by “carrot and stick” or by “hook or crook” upsets the constitutional provisions and goes against the principles of secularism. He said the state and federal governments have not been able to check black magic, superstition, and dishonest religious conversions.
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