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Case Insight - Alumni Update September 2021

Balchand and Gopal are residents of Uttar Pradesh, a northern province in India, who have been accused of forceful conversion under the the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act 2021 more commonly known as the UP anti-conversion law. Both were subjected to assault by the complainant and his associates and even at the hands of the police and were jailed for 25 days.

With assistance from ADF allied lawyers, they were able to get bail and file a writ of petition before the Allahabad High Court challenging the constitutionality of the anti-conversion law.

Sanbha Rumnong is an Allied Lawyer in New Delhi, India. As an advocate, he has practiced law for 10 years in New Delhi, appearing before various courts and forums, and collaborates with ADF International. Sanbha is lead counsel in the case of Balchand and Another v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors.

Can you elaborate more on the facts of this case and situation? How did this case arise, and what is the impact of it? 

Like most of our cases in India dealing with anti-conversion law, the Uttar Pradesh anti- conversion law is being misused against minorities, and like all other state laws, has created a chilling effect on society and caused a greater divide within the community on religious lines.  
Often these false cases are filed as a tool of harassment and control.  

It is Balchand and Gopal’s case before the High Court of Allahabad that they have been wrongly accused by the complainant, Ashok Kumar Yadav, who has ulterior motive to rope them a police case. Both petitioners have submitted in their counter complaint that they were not even present at the residence of the Complainant as alleged and were in fact subjected to abuse by the Complainant for not supporting him and his companions at the local village election.

Balchand and Gopal are law abiding citizens and have no criminal record. Yet somehow the State-run administration saw it fit to have them jailed and subject them to custodial torture. Why is Ashok Kumar Yadav’s side of the story appropriate for the police to register a case under the Uttar Pradesh prohibition law and have Balchand and Gopal arrested and kept in custody for almost a month? Why have the police not yet registered a case on Balchand and Gopal’s counter complaint against Ashok and his co-aggressors? 
The other crucial question being raised is the manner by which laws like the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act can be misused and charged against anyone as has been done against Balchand and Gopal. The State government in one of the petitions before the same High Court defended the usage of the law and said it was safeguarding the community’s interests. However, Balchand and Gopal feel that such laws would only divide communities and create a sense of fear and suspicion between them.

The terms used in the laws— “force, fraud, and allurement”— are so vague that even legitimate charitable assistance, for example, can be seen as a violation. Additionally, these laws often require registration with the government prior to the conversion. This information is often leaked to mobs, who then harass, threaten, and intimidate the registered individual to prevent his or her conversion.
The introduction of the present anti-conversion law feeds a false and fake narrative that Christians are alluring poor people to embrace Christianity thereby enhancing the fear and suspicion within society of religious minorities. Since the anti-conversion law was enacted, we have seen a number of cases being filed mainly against members of the minority communities, primarily Muslim and Christian.

What is the core legal issue at stake here, what are the implications in this case locally and perhaps on a national level?  

Balchand and Gopal are ideal petitioners to challenge the state anti-conversion law as their case exposes how such laws are used to wrongfully prosecute anyone who wishes to freely practice and profess their religious beliefs.

Through their petition the High Court will examine how the law infringes on the fundamental rights of all persons in the state of Uttar Pradesh and will hopefully result in the striking down of the provisions which are violative of the Constitution. Our arguments broadly are as follows:

  1. Citizens of this country have a fundamental right to privacy and other basic rights like right to religious freedom. This law has made it mandatory for all residents of the State of Uttar Pradesh to disclose their intentions of religious conversion and such information will be made public by the concerned authorities. This no doubt is a clear privacy violation and infringing on the freedom to practice and profess the religion of one’s choice.
    The law punishes the person converting and the person conducting the conversion ceremony who fail to submit their declaration. The existence of such a provision is absurd and contrary to the objects and reasons of the law i.e. to protect the victims of unlawful religious conversion.
  2. As per this law there are various strict provisions to follow in terms of someone who wishes to change their religion however for those who wish to reconvert to their “previous” or “original” religion, there are no questions asked. This conveniently fits in the proposed campaign, otherwise known as “Ghar Wapsi” or Homecoming ceremonies, by Indian Hindu Organisations such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World council of Hindus) and the Rashritrya Swayamsevak Sangh to reconvert or bring back those who have left their “home religion” (mainly Christians & Muslims).
  3. Furthermore, a convertor or someone involved in the conversion process of another has no protection or safeguards under the law. The law allows anyone to file a complaint against any person who may convert or attempt to convert their religion by force or fraud or inducement or allurement. And when such accusations are made and case registered it is for the accused to prove his innocence and not for the prosecution to prove their allegations. This burden of proof is again contrary to the established jurisprudence under criminal law i.e. presumed innocent until proven guilty.

If you win this challenge, what do you expect to happen? 

If we are successful with this challenge, we expect the following results:

  1. All persons residing in the state of Uttar Pradesh will be able to freely practice and profess their own religious beliefs and will not subjected to any inquiry or investigation.
  2. Christians will be able to freely practise and propagate their faith.
  3. The judgment passed by the court will act as a precedent to other courts to consider.
  4. A win for Balchand and Gopal will expose the manner by which the law has been misused and parity can be drawn to other similarly placed accused persons in such cases.

What can we, the ADF International Alumni community, do to help or get involved?

Our team and clients value the continuous prayers we receive. Also writing and discussing about these such laws will help to expose their true intentions as tools of control and to restrict all forms of religious freedom and identity.

What spiritual encouragement or lessons have you gained for working on this and similar cases? 

Believers like Balchand and Gopal have always been a source of inspiration for me and the entire ADF India team. For them to come forward before such a big stage, to challenge and question the state machinery and those in power, obviously puts them at great risk. Despite the adversity, their willingness to continue fighting to keep the doors for the gospel open is rewarding.

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