The Freedom of Conscience and Religion violated- June 2020

July 15, 2020

In the month of June, 2020, a total of 17 incidents were reported. Chhattisgarh took the lead with 5 incidents followed by Jharkhand where 3 incidents were reported, Maharashtra and Haryana both had two incidents each and one incident was reported each in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

The incidents this month ranged from murder of a young Christian boy named Somaru Madkami in Odisha to instances of physical assaults, threats and intimidation by family members and villagers alike and social ostracism.

Article 25 of the Constitution of India gives to all persons in India, the right to freely profess, practice and propagate a religion of their choice. Despite this guarantee, all incidents reported this month involves a direct violation of all of these rights.

For instance, on 2nd of June, 2020, relatives of a Christian woman Aruna Sahu, threatened to throw her and two of her sons out of their homes in Jagdalpur, Bastar in Chhattisgarh because of their faith. Her relatives have been pressurizing her to choose between her conscience and her home. They have given her a one-month ultimatum to decide.

The only “fault” she and her sons have committed is to follow their conscience and choose to profess Christianity, both of which are freedoms guaranteed to them by the Constitution of India.

Another incident that brings to light the violation of the “freedom to propagate one’s religion” is the severe physical assault meted out to Pr. Ashok in Firozpur, Punjab on 10th of June, 2020 by a group of assailants who threatened, robbed and attacked him with sticks, stones and a kripan (small knife) because he preached to everyone about the ill effects of using drugs and other intoxicants.

Yet another incident shows how a Christian family wishing to practice their religion were obstructed by a mob on 14th of June, 2020. A Christian family living in a village named Pinjore in Panchkula, Haryana invited a pastor and his wife to visit and pray for them. But as soon as Pr. Tomy Joseph and his wife Veena reached their home, a mob of 50 villagers gathered and inquired of the purpose of their visit. They then began to hurl abuses at them and threatened them to leave immediately or face consequences. The villagers also informed the Village Chief and a member of the Municipal Corporation who reached there immediately.

These violations continue to happen despite the fact that matters of religion and faith are essentially private and personal matters as affirmed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Justice K.S. Puttswamy v. Union of India, in the following words:

“… the freedom of the belief or faith in any religion is a matter of conscience falling within the zone of purely private thought process and is an aspect of liberty…”

Regardless of that, family members and often times even strangers have an opinion about the religion of others. In several of these matters, the victims refuse to take even the first step towards justice either out of fear of the mobs or the indifference shown by the police regarding these incidents.

It is all the more difficult in instances where the family members themselves are the perpetrators as seen above in Aruna Sahu’s incident where despite several attempts of coaxing and persuading the victims, they do not come around to the idea of filing a police complaint and seeking a legal remedy.