Madhya pradesh HC
Madhya pradesh HC
Litigation News

Madhya Pradesh HC refuses to quash proceedings against preacher accused of forced religious conversion under MP Freedom of Religion Act

The Court observed that the complainant's initial statements to the police seemed to disclose offences under Sections 3 and 4 of the Adhiniyam law (conversion by force, allurement, or fraudulent means).

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

The Madhya Pradesh High Court has refused to quash prosecution under the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam, 1968 against George Mangalapilly, who has been accused of forcibly 'converting' two persons to Christianity.

An FIR was lodged against the preacher for alluring and inspiring the complainant with the offer of money to embrace Christianity.

The person later shifted his stance and instead alleged that members of the Bajrang Dal had forced him into inscribing his signature on a blank sheet of paper.

Mangalapilly's counsel argued that the proceedings before the Judicial Magistrate First Class were an abuse of process because the evidence in the chargesheet and the statements recorded before the Magistrate did not support the prosecution's account of the incident. Further, neither the complainant nor any of the witnesses levelled allegations of any kind before the Magistrate.

Despite the discrepancies, the Judicial Magistrate arbitrarily framed charges without applying his 'judicial mind', it was argued.

The charges framed under Sections 153-B (imputations causing enmity between members of a religious group and other persons) and 295-A (deliberate malicious acts to outrage the feelings of a religious group) of the Indian Penal Code were also challenged as baseless.

Apart from this, it was also submitted that the complainant had no objection to the investigation being quashed.

However, Justice Rajendra Kumar Srivastava of the Madhya Pradesh High Court has refused to quash criminal proceedings against Mangalapilly.

Citing an earlier decision of the High Court, Justice Srivastava held that witness statements and depositions from the trial could not form the basis for quashing criminal proceedings under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The order states,

"I sum up by stating that quashment of criminal proceedings under Section 482 Cr.P.C. can be done at any stage of trial as it is in order to secure the ends of justice. Furthermore, while exercising power under Section 482 Cr.P.C., the evidence deposed before the trial Court can not be looked into."

The Court, however, found that the sanction requisite for initiating prosecution under Sections 153-B and 295-A were not obtained before the proceedings and that the Magistrate acted in excess of his powers in taking cognizance. Accordingly, the Court quashed the prosecution instituted under these provisions.

Justice Srivastava observed that the FIR, as well as the complainant's initial statements to the police, seemed to disclose offences under Sections 3 and 4 of the Adhiniyam law (conversion by force, allurement, or fraudulent means). The veracity of the complainant's conflicting statements could be ascertained during trial, he added. The Court ruled,

"... looking to the fact that the offence is relating to religion and significant to maintain public tranquility, the Adhiniyam, 1968 clearly provides for the maintenance of public order, hence, under inherent jurisdiction, I do not think fit to give it overemphasized. Therefore, considering the allegations made in the FIR as well as 161 Statements, I am not inclined to quash the proceeding in respect of offence under Section 3/4 of Adhiniyam, 1968."

Freedom of Religion laws, such as the Adhiniyam, are presently in force in around eight states in India. The laws aim to restrict a person from shifting to a religion other than one's official religion by penalising conversions caused by force, allurement, or any other fraudulent means.

Many of the laws require communication of a religious conversion to administrative officials. Incarceration and/or fines are prescribed for a failure to comply.

Read the Order here:

George Mangalapilly v. State of M.P. - Final Order dated August 27.pdf
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