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

The Delhi High Court declined to issue notice at the time of a petition calling for steps to ban violent religious conversions and on Friday questioned the petitioner, BJP leader Ashwani Kumar Upadhyay, telling him that the data available on WhatsApp or social media is not the basis for a petition.

The divisional bench of Justices Sanjeev Sachdeva and Justices Tushar Rao Gedela said the plea requires detailed examination to determine whether it even merits notice to the authorities. “Why should we let you know? We have to content ourselves with the petition for now. This is a petition that can have dire consequences in either case. There is no basis, no documentation, no authority that you cited,” the bank said while listing the matter for the July 25 hearing.

The court also said that laws against forced conversions were already in effect, and asserted that conversion in general was not prohibited. “It is an individual’s right to profess any religion, whether of the religion of his birth or of his choice. This is constitutional freedom. What you are saying is that someone is being forced to convert. If someone is forced to go into hiding, that’s a different issue,” the bank added.

The court questioned Upadhyay on dates and said the petition did not mention any cases or provide statistics on the claims of mass conversions. It was also asked if anyone had come forward to complain. “It’s someone saying this happened. If it happened or didn’t happen, something has to be recorded. You rendered three verdicts…the rest is your assertion,” the court noted.
Upadhyay claimed in the petition that the situation is alarming as many “individuals and organizations” in rural areas are carrying out mass conversions of socially and economically disadvantaged people. He said the conversions were rooted in “a wave of foreign-funded international conversion campaigns” and that “unethical predatory conversion strategies” were often used.

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The petition also called for a statement that religious conversion through intimidation, threats and “deceptive enticement” through gifts and cash payments, as well as through “use of black magic” and superstition, violates the constitution, but also violates the rule of law and secularism.

When Upadhyay argued that he had social media data, the court said: “Social media is not data. We have cases where photos have been morphed. Some incidents it is shown that this is something that happened, it turns out that it happened somewhere in another country 20 years ago and it is shown that it happened yesterday or today.

The court went on to say 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 another question. Foreign funding of NGOs is not your petition.”
It also said that there is no such thing as deceit in religion and that all religions have beliefs and they may or may not have a scientific basis. “That doesn’t mean belief is cheating. That is the belief of an individual,” the court added.

However, the court also said that it was not commenting on the Upadhyay bonafide but first wanted to be satisfied that there was a basis for the case: “We are not prepared to issue a notice. We are ready to hear you in detail and then we will decide whether or not notification is warranted.” The court also said that after the petition was filed, the center became aware of it, which could act on its own . Additional Attorney General Chetan Sharma argued that the petition raised an important issue. However, the court said some statistics must support the petition. “Material has to be there,” said the bank.

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