11/15/2022, 18.01
INDIA
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The Supreme Court of India bows to Hindu nationalists on conversions

by Nirmala Carvalho

India’s highest court accepts to hear a petition filed by a lawyer with the ruling BJP, claiming that "forced" conversions are undermining religious freedom. As a result, the court asked the central government what action it plans to take to stop them. Hindu nationalists have long been pushing for national anti-conversion laws. “The Supreme Court has made a highly exaggerated statement,” the bishop of Lucknow told AsiaNews, “Existing provisions in the constitution are sufficient to  take care of any aberrations,” he added, warning that false claims “cause hatred and violence.”

 

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Supreme Court of India has bought into the rhetoric of Hindu nationalists when it comes to so-called forced conversions.

Calling the issue “very serious," the court asked the Union (federal) government to indicate “what further steps can be taken” to stem the “problem”.

The statement came at the end of a hearing in which Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, a lawyer who is also a leading member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), presented a petition seeking action against forced conversions.

The Court responded to the submission by asking the government of Prime Minister Modi to present its official position, setting a further hearing for 28 November.

Currently, 10 Indian states or territories out of 36 have so-called anti-conversion laws. The stance taken by the Supreme Court suggests that it wants the Union government to pass India-wide legislation, a demand Hindu nationalists have been pushing for a long time.

“Conversion is legal under the constitution, but not forcible conversion,” the court said. Joining a religion for economic benefits or by fraudulent means “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,” it added.

Appearing for the Union, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the problem is “rampant” in tribal areas. In view of the situation as presented, the court asked what action the Union government intends to take.

“The Supreme Court has made a highly exaggerated statement,” said Bishop Gerald Mathias of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (one of the latest states to adopt anti-conversion legislation), speaking to AsiaNews.

“The government or Ashwini Kumar Upadhyaya have to supply facts and figures to prove forced conversion in the country,” Bishop Mathias said. “Most of the allegations by the accusers have been proven baseless and false in most cases.”

“The existing provisions in the constitution are sufficient to  take care of any aberrations. There is absolutely no need for any new legislation. State anti-conversion laws have only encouraged misuse of the law and emboldened fundamentalists to take the law into their own hand and cause hatred and violence.”

Fr Anand Mathew, coordinator of Sajha Sanskriti Manch, an alliance of social activists based in Varanasi, agrees.  

“Since 1967, when an anti-conversion law was adopted for the first time by the Orissa (Odisha) assembly,” other states followed with similar legislation, he told AsiaNews.

“In Uttar Pradesh where this law was brought into effect on 27 September 2020, we have had lots of problems. Each year, around 200 cases of violence against Christians are reported. People have been jailed but no one has been convicted.” In fact, "All were acquitted.”

“So a myth about forced conversions was created; it is very unfortunate that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, has become a victim of this prejudice."

“No person with common sense or rationality can ever think of forced conversion,” Fr Mathew explained. “Here in Uttar Pradesh there have been many cases involving very poor villagers, like washers and shoemakers, accused of paying huge amounts to upper caste village heads to lure them to Christianity. These are meaningless allegations. We need to challenge them.”

“In the past month, we have had meetings with the additional director general of police, the commissioner, the district collector, and others, saying that this sort of story should be stopped.”

Unfortunately, “Most of the media, print as well as electronic, are also creating and propagating such fictitious stories. We said that there should be some controls.”

“Let them bring forward the proof, the notes or cheques given to them, and let the police arrest the persons who took the money and the ones who gave the money.”

“We constantly ask people: Is your Hindu religion so cheap that you can sell it for 30,000 or Rs. 50,000 rupees (US$ 370 to US$ 620) or liquor or with promises of jobs?” All these are “fictitious and mythological stories that should be challenged.”

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