UCF urges Allahabad High Court to retract 'sweeping allegations' against Christians

(Photo: Pixabay/Daniel Bone)

The shocking remarks by the Allahabad High Court while pronouncing the bail order of a Christian earlier this week have come under strong scrutiny from the Christian community.

Kailash (referred to only by his first name), under the case Kailash vs. the State of Uttar Pradesh is accused of being involved in carrying out conversions.

Justice Rohit Ranjan Agarwal while rejecting the bail plea of Kailash on 1 July 2024 in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, observed that "If this process is allowed to be carried out, the majority population of this country would be in the minority one day and such religious congregations should be immediately stopped where the conversion is taking place and changing religion of citizen of India."

The informant alleged that her brother, who suffers from mental illness, was taken by Kailash to Delhi with the promise of treatment and a return within a week, which did not happen. She claimed that when she asked Kailash about her brother, she did not receive a satisfactory response, leading to the case.

Elaborating the word “propagation,” Justice Agarwal said, “The word 'propagation' means to promote, but it does not mean to convert any person from his religion to another religion.

“In the instant case, there are serious allegations against the applicant by the informant that her brother, along with several others, were taken from their village to attend a gathering in New Delhi and converted to Christianity. The brother of the informant never returned,” he said.

Responding to the observations of Justice Agarwal, the United Christian Forum (UCF) issued a press release on 4 July 2024 expressing anguish over the court’s remarks.

Expressing concern that such observations “could expose the Christian community to further persecution,” the UCF stated, “The Court should have limited its focus to the criminal law aspect of the case rather than being swayed by majoritarian religious considerations and making sweeping statements about a specific religious community.”

Highlighting the court’s observations, the UCF statement said, “The High Court failed to distinguish between voluntary and forced conversions,”

Kailash is booked under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 365 and section 3/5(1) of the U.P. Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.

Speaking to Christian Today, A.C. Michael, the National Coordinator of UCF India, highlighted that the allegations against Kailash of converting several people in Prayagraj, including the informant's brother, have not been verified.

“I wish the concerned Judge had gone through the matter properly and appropriately investigated to find out if the said people were actually converted instead of making his own conclusions,” said Michael on July 5.

“The judge in the same order acknowledges that the said brother is not converted to Christianity. In the order he goes on to say that huge numbers of people were taken to Delhi to convert them by paying huge money,” Michael added. “What proof does he have to make such a statement?”

UCF in their statement emphasised that The Indian Constitution's Article 25 enshrines the individual's right to change religion in accordance with personal conscience. However, the Court's recent ruling implies that conversion infringes upon religious freedom, a stance that “contradicts various Supreme Court decisions upholding the right to change one’s faith,” read the statement. Moreover, the constitutional legitimacy of multiple "anti-conversion" laws is presently being contested in the Supreme Court.

“The fact remains that till today there is not a single conviction of anyone being forcefully converted in any courts of law anywhere in our country though there are hundreds of cases filed against pastors with allegations of forceful conversions,” said Michael. “Most of them have been acquitted by the courts,” concluded Michael.

Despite the absence of convictions for conversions through allurement in Uttar Pradesh, numerous cases have been filed under anti-conversion laws highlighted the statement. The UCF Helpline reported 733 hostile acts against Christians in 2023, with nearly half originating from Uttar Pradesh. A People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) report titled "Criminalizing Practice of Faith" documented police collusion with self-described "Hindutva" groups, noting frequent disruptions of Christian practices. These mobs typically "mobilise attackers, alert police about purported 'forced conversions,' and vandalise churches, recording and circulating videos of these actions." A petition seeking stringent measures against such vigilante groups is pending before the Supreme Court, UCF said.

Many "anti-conversion" laws stipulate that only an affected person can register a complaint. However, police often arrest Christians based on complaints from self-ascribed "Hindutva" groups claiming prior knowledge of "forced conversions."

Article 14, a legal research group, analysed over 100 First Information Reports (FIR) filed under the anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh and found that "63 were based on third-party complaints, including 26 from organisations affiliated with the 'Hindutva' political ideology," claimed the statement.

Researchers have documented how these laws are used to target religious minorities. False cases can persist for years, "justifying brutality and violence against Christians accused of conversion, violating their rights to life and liberty," the statement read.

UCF mentioned that the precedent for judicial rectification exists and a prominent example of that was in 2011 when the Supreme Court responding to public outcry expunged ‘suo moto’ the phrase “converting poor tribals to Christianity” from its judgement relating to Dara Singh who murdered Graham Stains and his two sons by burning them to death in Mayurbhanj District of Orissa (now Odisha) in January 1999.

Given these past judicial corrections and the potential for dangerous ramifications, the United Christian Forum respectfully urged the Hon'ble Allahabad High Court to "suo motu expunge the sweeping allegations made against the entire Christian community" from its order dated 1 July 2024.

In a country where the Hindu population is 78.9 percent and the Christian population is 2.3 percent, experts wonder at the Court’s observation as to how “the majority population of this country would be in the minority one day?”

The recent Times of India editorial, titled “Court Don't Contort,” directly addresses the controversial remarks made by the Allahabad High Court (HC). The piece opens with a bold assertion: “Hindu majority is under no threat from conversions. HCs should know this basic data point.”

The editorial proceeds to present demographic data, specifically the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), to support its argument. It concludes that observations like those made by the Allahabad HC are “both disappointing and dangerous.”

The editorial doesn't mince words in its criticism, stating that “Allahabad HC flying the bogey of Hindus being in danger of becoming a minority, falls squarely in this worrying category.” And concludes with a powerful reminder of the judiciary's role, emphasizing that “Our courts should champion dispassion and reason.”