States must file counter-affidavits in anti-conversion law cases in three weeks: SC

A Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud said that more States are trying to

A Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud said that more States are trying to “jump into the bandwagon” even while the court is hearing the case. , Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court on Friday gave States three more weeks to file counter-affidavits to petitions challenging their anti-religious conversion laws, even as senior advocate Dushyant Dave said that 40 people are on the run and missionaries catering to the needs of the poor in Uttar Pradesh has been shut down owing to these statutes.

Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, senior advocate CU Singh, for petitioner Citizens for Justice and Peace, said that more States are trying to “jump into the bandwagon” even while the court is hearing the case.

Dangers of delay

“While the court is dealing with laws enacted by nine States, the tenth and the eleventh States are trying to jump into the bandwagon by citing love jihad, forcible conversion, etc,” Mr. Singh submitted, urging the court to hear the case without delay.

Chief Justice Chandrachud said that his Bench does not keep a case pending for long and gave the petitioners two weeks to submit their rejoinders after the States have filed their counter-affidavits.

The court said that States which have been made parties in multiple petitions in the case need to file only a common counter-affidavit in order to save time.

Virulent laws

The case concerns the anti-conversion enactments of nine States, including Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Jharkhand and Karnataka.

The Supreme Court had previously refused to refer to the Law Commission of India the question of whether “forcible conversion” should be made a separate offense relating to religion under the Indian Penal Code.

The government had earlier opposed the locus standi of Citizens for Justice and Peace, an NGO associated with activist Teesta Setalvad, in approaching the apex court against these religious conversion laws.

Mr. Singh had, however, argued that these State laws amounted to undue interference in a person’s right of choice of faith and life partner. He said that each State’s law was used by the other as a “building block” to make a more “virulent” law for itself.

‘Chilling effect’

The religious conversion laws under challenge mandate a person proposing to convert or a priest who would preside over the ceremony to take prior permission from the local District Magistrate. Besides, the burden of proof was on the convert to prove that he or she was not forced or “allured” to change faith.

The petitioners have argued that these State laws have a “chilling effect” on the right to profess and propagate one’s religion, enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.

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