Observing that the central and state governments are free to make laws against forced religious conversions, the Delhi High Court on Friday told the petitioner, BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, that he has to show more than his apprehensions for the court to pass any direction to the State.
Upadhyay had argued that Delhi has become a safe haven for illegal religious conversions and there is no law to book people for it. He submitted that accused in such cases are booked under Section 295A IPC and similar provisions in absence of a proper law. He also said that foreign-funded organisations were luring people to convert by promising treatments for ailments like cancer.
“What is the material? These are newspaper reports. How does one take cognizance? You cannot simply handover newspaper reports for this court to take cognizance,” said the division bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva and Justice Tushar Rao Gedela.
The court said that there is no disagreement that courts cannot advise or direct the government but for that, the petitioner has to make out his case first. “Please give us instances. Has anyone made a complaint and action not been taken by the executive? You have to show more than your apprehension,” it said.
The court said the claims being made by Upadhyay are “unsubstantiated” and no affidavit has been placed before it to support such contentions. Not a single instance is mentioned in the petition, it added. “File something on record for the court to take cognizance,” said the bench, adding that some statistics need to be placed before it.
Observing that it is not mandatory for the legislature to frame laws on everything, the court said that if the government is conscious of something happening, nobody is preventing it from doing so. When Upadhyay told the court regarding Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s statement that there is need for a law against forced religious conversions, the court said, “Let him make the law. If the Chief Minister says there is need, he is the legislature. State governments can also frame laws”.
Upadhyay also told the court that he had sought information from the MHA regarding the number of people who have come to India in 20 years for promoting or propagating religion. However, the court was told, no reply has been received by him. “How do we take cognisance when it’s only a query,” said the bench.
When Upadhyay submitted that a district administration from Uttar Pradesh in response to an RTI application on illegal conversions had told him that the answer is of 21 pages and he needs to pay Rs 42, the court observed, “The reply could have zero or thousand [names]. Aapne bayalees rupeee nahi diye honge (you may not have paid Rs 42)”.”
Granting Upadhyay time to file an additional affidavit to place on record any material, the court listed the matter for hearing on August 31. Hearing the same case, the court had in June told Upadhyay that data available on WhatsApp or social media cannot form the basis of a petition.
“Why should we issue notice? We have to first be satisfied with the petition. This is a petition which can have severe ramifications either way. There is no basis, no documentation, not one instance given by you,” the bench had said.
Upadhyay in the petition has claimed that the situation is alarming as many “individuals and organisations” are carrying out mass conversions in rural areas of socially, economically underprivileged people. He said that the conversions are rooted in “a surge of foreign-funded international conversion campaigns” and that “unethical predatory conversion strategies” are commonly used.
The petition also seeks a declaration that religious conversion by intimidation, threat and “deceivingly luring” through gifts and monetary benefits and by “using black magic” and superstition violates the Constitution but also is contrary to the rule of law and secularism.