Junking a public interest litigation (PIL) against religious conversions, the Supreme Court has sternly upheld the right of an adult to freely choose, practise and propagate his/her religion as guaranteed by the Constitution. While this firm stand is as it should be, its reinforcement is significant in the current atmosphere of divisively communal politics and the ‘otherisation’ of minorities. The SC rightly called out the ‘publicity interest litigation’ which subverted an individual’s right to freedom of religion as being of a ‘very, very harmful kind’. The petition had sought directions to the Centre and the states to ban black magic, superstition and religious conversions that were allegedly being done through threats, intimidation or bribes. Refusing to entertain the petitioner’s request, the court ordered him to withdraw the PIL or risk the imposition of heavy costs.
Pertinently, the Supreme Court is examining the constitutional validity of a spate of ‘anti-conversion’ laws enacted recently by states such as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Flagging the bogey of ‘love jihad’ in inter-faith marriages, these legislations are based on assumptions that all conversions take place under duress. A slew of petitions challenging these laws were filed as mixed couples intending to tie the nuptial knot and their families faced harassment.
India’s secular image has taken a beating as political weaponisation of religion is bound to deal a severe blow to our multi-religious and diverse society. These disconcerting developments undermine the constitutional safeguard that there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. Such a trend also militates against an exponentially increasing number of independent women who are exercising their agency and choosing their partners without any constraint. The right to freedom of religion is inviolable.