The Gujarat High Court on Thursday, April 18, asked the state government why can’t it grant the atheist status to the citizens. This development came after Rajveer Upadhyay, a 35-year-old auto-rickshaw driver, filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court.
According to Times of India, Upadhyay moved HC in July 2018 after the Ahmedabad district collector declined his request to change his religion from Hinduism to atheism under the anti-conversion laws. The district collector, on May 16, 2017, refused to give permission for such conversion after deliberating over it for nearly two years. He declined his request holding that under the state’s anti-conversion law, “any citizen can change his religion from one religion to other religion, but there is no provision to change the religion as ‘secular’ (Atheist)”.
A High Court bench of acting Chief Justice A S Dave and Justice Biren Vaishnav issued notice to the state government and Ahmedabad district collector in response to Upadhyay’s petition.
As per the report in Times of India, Upadhyay had submitted that he was born a Hindu in Garoda Brahmin family, which falls under the Scheduled Caste category, and has been facing caste-based discrimination all his life. This is why he had decided to let go of his religion.
He also requested the HC to direct the state government to make amendments to its Freedom of Religion Act. The Act makes it mandatory for a citizen to obtain permission from district collector if she/he wants to change her or his religion. The Gujarat government in 2003 had brought a legislation which mandated permission from the state authorities as a precondition for any citizen to convert from one religion to the other.
It was submitted that Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution grant freedom to citizens to profess and propagate any religion or faith, and the HC also asked the legal services authority to assist the petitioner to prosecute the case. Upadhyay submitted that the Gujarat government’s anti-conversion law is violation of constitutional provisions if it restricts a citizen from relinquishing his faith and assuming the identity of a secular or an atheist.
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