.- The Supreme Court of India has issued a ruling which may have serious impact on religious freedom in the country, The Times of India reports.
In its ruling, issued on Friday, the court seems to strip away further protection for persons who may, in one way or another, attempt to convince others of the truth of their religion.
India has come under recent criticism from several Christian leaders, including the Pope himself, for its laws preventing religious freedom. India has several anti-proselytization laws while some Indian states also have laws making religious conversions illegal.
The Supreme Court ruling states that police do not need a prior sanction from a court or any other authority before issuing a FIR (First Information Report) and arresting clergy members or anyone accused of attempting to gain converts to their faith.
Previously it was presumed that an article in the Criminal Procedure Code protected religious leaders from possible frequent harassment by police in a section which states that “no court shall take cognizance" of an offence involving inducement for conversion unless the prosecution has obtained previous sanction of the "Central government or of the state government or of the district magistrate."
The court’s ruling, however, said that there is a difference between the court “taking cognizance,” and the police making an arrest for a reported case of proselytization.
According to the Times of India, the court’s opinion, written by Justice G P Mathur, states that there is nothing which prevents the arrest of an accused offender, the investigation by police, the registration of a criminal complaint, or the bringing of charges against the accused. The arrest and incarceration does not amount to a court “taking cognizance” of the offence, for which alone prior sanction is required, the opinion said.
The ruling overturns the decision of a district High Court, which quashed a case against Christian pastor, P Raju. Raju was accused of proselytization, but his case was quashed by the High Court on the grounds that prior sanction of the central government, the state government, or the district magistrate had not been obtained. The Supreme Court ruling states that the High Court erred in quashing the case.