The laws are enacted by states, no need to transfer petitions challenging them to Supreme Court, attorney general argues
The Supreme Court of India. (Photo: IANS/UCA News)
The Indian federal government has objected to petitions challenging the anti-conversion laws enacted by states being moved to the Supreme Court for a uniform hearing.
Attorney General R. Venkataramani told a bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Jan. 30 that the government has “serious objections” to transferring the 21 petitions pending in the high courts of six states.
“These are state legislation. The state high courts must hear these matters,” Venkataramani argued.
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Eleven Indian states have enacted anti-conversion laws aimed at curbing change of religion by individuals or groups through allurement, force, coercion or any other fraudulent means.
Christian and Muslim leaders say these laws target their people and violate the religious freedom guaranteed in the Indian constitution.
Critics say these laws violate the freedom guaranteed in the constitution to profess, preach and propagate any religion of choice to all its citizens.
Petitioners argued that these laws have a "chilling effect" on the right to profess and propagate one’s religion, enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
Petitions challenging the constitutional validity of these laws are pending in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Karnataka
The petitioners in the Supreme Court wanted laws in five states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh – to be declared unconstitutional for disregarding the personal liberty of an individual to adopt another faith.
One of the petitioners, a Muslim organization named Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, wanted all the state cases against the laws to be transferred to the Supreme Court.
Citizens for Justice and Peace, a rights organization too had sought the transfer of all such cases pending in high courts.
The National Federation of Women has filed a separate petition seeking to know the ill effects of anti-conversion laws on women.
The Supreme Court is also hearing appeals filed by the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh governments against stay orders on certain provisions in their anti-conversion laws by high courts of the respective states.
The Supreme Court bench said that all the petitions and arguments relating to the issue will be listed for hearing on Feb. 3.
Most anti-conversion laws require a person proposing to convert or a priest ministering conversion to seek prior permission from the local district magistrate.The laws also place on the accused the burden of proving that they have not violated the provisions of the law.
Besides Christian missionary works in the field of education and health care could be easily construed as allurement, force or fraudulent means to convert the poor.
The anti-conversion laws also are aimed to prevent inter-faith marriages, which are a sensitive issue for Hindu nationalists outfits aligned with India’s ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party.
The outfits have coined a derogatory term, "Love jihad," for marriages between Hindu women and men of other religions and want a law to prevent marriages that requires changing a woman’s religion.
Critics of these state anti-conversion laws say they are aimed at stopping the so-called “love jihad” by Muslim men who allegedly target non-Muslim women for conversion by feigning love.
Gharwapsi, a re-conversion drive carried out by Hindu groups seeking Christians and Muslims to embrace the Hindu religion, has gained momentum since the BJP-led government came to power in May 2014.
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