New Delhi: A fresh application has been moved before the Supreme Court urging that the matters related to alleged forcible religious conversions be taken up by a larger bench of five judges as they involve the interpretation of the Constitution.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud is scheduled to hear the batch of pleas on Monday against anti-conversion laws of several states regulating religious conversion due to interfaith marriages and on matters related to alleged forcible conversions.
The fresh application is filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, who is among the petitioners. He has asked the court to refer the petitions to a larger bench saying there are several questions of laws involved which require the interpretation of the Constitution.
He raised questions like whether the previous judgments of this Court interpreting Article 25(1) of the Constitution are grossly erroneous in so far as they upheld the word “propagate” would include entitlement to convert.
“Whether the word “propagate” needs to be construed in a manner which is not detrimental to fraternity, unity, dignity and national integration…,” Upadhyay’s fresh plea said.
It should also not lead to communal conflagration on account of religious communities trying to convert the weaker section of other religious communities and “attempting to make demographic changes as witnessed in the nine states/UTs (Ladakh, Lakshadweep, Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh) and around 200 districts of India”, the application said.
In another application, Upadhyay has sought modification of the order dated January 9 in which the apex court had directed that the matter be listed under the title of “In Re: The issue of Religious conversion” to the original title.
On January 16, the top court asked the parties challenging the anti-conversion laws of several states to file a common petition seeking the transfer of cases on the issue from various high courts to the apex court.
It had asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of the parties, to file a common petition seeking the transfer of all the pleas from high courts to the top court.
The top court had taken note of the submission of senior advocate Dushyant Dave that one of the petitions, filed by Upadhyay, casts aspersions on Christians and Muslims and asked senior lawyer Arvind Datar, appearing for Upadhyay, to file a formal plea for deletion of the “objectionable portions”.
Datar, however, said he was not pressing the alleged contents.
The plea by Upadhyay against alleged “forceful religious conversions” was earlier being heard by another bench led by Justice MR Shah before it was transferred to the bench headed by the CJI recently.
Attorney General R Venkataramani, who is assisting the bench in one of the matters, had said the high courts should be permitted to continue with the hearing of petitions challenging the local laws.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had challenged the locus of NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace’ of activist Teesta Setalwad, who is one of the petitioners.
Mehta, however, did not elaborate on the reasons for questioning the locus of the NGO.
The top court had noted that there were at least five such pleas “before the Allahabad High Court, seven before the Madhya Pradesh High Court, two each before the Gujarat and Jharkhand High Courts, three before the Himachal Pradesh, and one each before Karnataka and Uttarakhand High Courts” and said a common petition for their transfer can be filed.
Besides those, two separate petitions have been filed by Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh challenging the interim orders of the respective high courts staying certain provisions of their law on conversion.
Earlier, a bench headed by Justice M R Shah had said religious conversion was a serious issue that should not be given a political colour.
It had sought the assistance of the attorney general on the plea filed by Upadhyay.
Another bench headed by the CJI had on January 2 sought to know the status of cases pending before different high courts challenging controversial state laws regulating religious conversion due to interfaith marriages, and said if all cases are similar in nature it may transfer them all to itself.
It had asked NGO ‘Citizens for Justice and Peace’ and the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh to apprise it about the status of cases challenging the state laws on conversion through marriage.
The apex court had on January 6, 2021 agreed to examine certain controversial new laws of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand regulating religious conversions due to such marriages.
The controversial UP law relates to not only interfaith marriages but all religious conversions and lays down elaborate procedures for any person who wishes to convert to another religion.
The Uttarakhand law entails a two-year jail term for those found guilty of religious conversion through “force or allurement”. The allurement can be in cash, employment, or material benefit.
The plea filed by the NGO alleged the legislations violate Articles 21 and 25 of the Constitution as they empower the state to suppress an individual’s personal liberty and the freedom to practise the religion of one’s choice.
Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind has also moved the Supreme Court challenging the anti-conversion laws of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, saying they have been enacted to “harass” interfaith couples and implicate them in criminal cases.
The Muslim body, in its PIL filed through advocate Ejaz Maqbool, said the provisions of all the local laws of the five states force a person to disclose their faith and, consequently, invade their privacy.