WhatsApp and social media cannot form basis for petitions: Delhi HC to BJP chief over mass conversion claims


Refusing to issue an opinion at this stage on a petition calling for measures to ban forced religious conversions, the Delhi High Court on Friday questioned the petitioner, BJP leader Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay, and told him that the data available on WhatsApp or social media cannot form the basis of a petition.

The divisional bench of Judge Sanjeev Sachdeva and Judge Tushar Rao Gedela said the plea would require detailed review to see if it even warrants issuing a notice to authorities. “Why should we issue an opinion? We must first be satisfied with the petition. This is a petition that can have serious ramifications both ways. There is no basis, no documentation, no case given by you,” the bench said, while listing the case to be heard on July 25.

The court also said laws against forced conversions are already in place and asserted that conversion in general is not prohibited. “It is the right of an individual to profess any religion, religion of his birth or religion he chooses to profess. It is the freedom of the Constitution. What you are saying is that someone is being forced to convert. When someone is forced into hiding, that’s a separate issue,” the bench added.

Asking Upadhyay about the data, the court said the petition did not mention any cases or provide statistics on the alleged mass conversions. He also asked if anyone had come forward to complain. “It’s someone saying it happened. Whether it happened or not, something has to be recorded. You have given three judgments… the rest is your assertion,” the court observed.
Upadhyay in the petition claimed that the situation is alarming as many “individuals and organizations” are carrying out mass conversions in rural areas of socially and economically disadvantaged people. He said the conversions are rooted in “a wave of foreign-funded international conversion campaigns” and that “unethical predatory conversion strategies” are commonly used.

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The petition also requested a declaration that religious conversion by intimidation, threat and “deceptive luring” through gifts and monetary benefits and by “using black magic” and superstition violates the Constitution but is also contrary to the rule of law and secularism.

When Upadhyay said he had data from social media, the court said, “Social media is not data. We have examples of transformed photographs. An incident shown that looks at it is something that happened, it turns out that it happened somewhere in another country 20 years ago and it happened yesterday or today”.

The court further said that newspapers, social media and even WhatsApp may or may not contain facts, but they cannot be the basis of petitions. When Upadhyay argued that Delhi had become a hub of foreign-funded NGOs, the court said: ‘That’s a separate issue. Foreign NGO funding is not your petition.
He also said that there is no fraud in religion and that all religions have beliefs and they may or may not have a scientific basis. “It does not mean that the belief is a fraud. It is the belief of an individual,” the court added.

However, the court also said that it was not commenting on Upadhyay’s good faith, but first wanted to be satisfied that the case had merit: “We are not prepared to publish a notice. We are willing to hear from you in detail and then we will decide whether notice is warranted or not. The court also said that since the petition was filed, it has come to the attention of the Center which can act on its own. Additional Solicitor General Chetan Sharma argued that the petition raises an important issue. However, the court said that certain statistics must support the petition. “There must be material,” the bench said.


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