04/12/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – Last week, the Supreme Court of India affirmed the religious freedom rights of Indian citizens in rejecting a petition calling for a nationwide law against religious conversions. In making its decision, the court stated that persons above the age of 18 in India are free to choose the religion of their choice.
The petition, brought to the Supreme Court in the form of public interest litigation, was filed by Ashwini Upadhyay, a Supreme Court lawyer and member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The petition sought direction from the Supreme Court to order the federal government to enact a nationwide law against religious conversions and black magic.
Looking to India’s constitution, the Supreme Court disagreed with the petition and directed that it be withdrawn. If the petitioner refused to withdraw, the justices threatened to impose heavy costs on the petitioner.
According to Article 25 of India’s constitution, Indian citizens have the right to profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice. In recent years, this right has been attacked by Hindu nationalists seeking to establish India as a Hindu nation.
Among the most potent tools used by Hindu nationalists are anti-conversion laws. These laws limit the religious freedom by requiring citizens to receive government approval before converting from one religion to another. These laws also criminalize forced religious conversions. Unfortunately, the ambiguity around what constitutes a forced conversion provides religious extremists legal cover as they persecute religious minorities.
“The court directions are in the right spirit of the constitution, which guarantees every citizen the right to profess, practice, and propagate a religious of choice,” Father Babu Joseph, former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). “Several states have enacted laws curbing the religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution and it has had an adverse impact on several communities, especially Christians.”
“The verdict has come at the right time,” Father Joseph continued. “Pro-Hindu groups have been clamoring for a national law to ban conversions and accusing Christian missionaries of adopting fraudulent means to convert socially poor Dalit and tribal people.”