High Court protects interfaith couples from Gujarat law

Interim order meant to protect people from unnecessary harassment. says bench

Mahesh Langa
August 20, 2021 09:49 IST

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The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, penalises forcible or fraudulent religious conversion through marriage.

Granting protection to interfaith couples from harassment under Gujarat’s recent anti-conversion law, the Gujarat High Court on Thursday said some sections of the Act will not apply to a marriage that did not involve force, fraud or allurement.

A Division Bench, comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav, passed the interim order, saying it was meant to protect people from unnecessary harassment. The order applies to Sections 3, 4, 4A to 4C, 5, 6 and 6A of the

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Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021 .

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“We are of the opinion that pending further hearing, rigours of Section 3, 4, 4A to 4C, 5, 6, and 6A shall not operate merely because the marriage is solemnised by a person of one religion with another religion without force, allurement or fraudulent means, and such marriages cannot be termed as marriage for the purpose of unlawful conversion,” the Chief Justice said.

“This interim order is to protect the parties which solemnised interfaith marriages from unnecessary harassment,” he added.

Also read | Gujarat govt. defends anti-conversion law in HC

The anti-conversion law was amended this year to bring in new sections that penalise forcible or fraudulent religious conversion through marriage. The law was notified on June 15. The law, the State government contended, was meant to stop religious conversion through interfaith marriages, citing several incidents of alleged conversion through marriages.

In the new amendment, Section 3 of the law defines what is “forcible conversion”. It says “no person shall convert or attempt to convert any person from one religion to another by use of force, or by allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage or by getting a person married or by aiding a person to get married, nor shall any person abet such conversion”.

As per Section 4, people found guilty of violating the provisions of Section 3 will face up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of ₹50,000. If the victim is a minor, a woman or from SC or ST community, then the jail term will be four years with a fine of ₹one lakh.

Section 4A specifically deals with the “marriage by unlawful conversion” part of Section 3, which says that “conversion by marriage or by getting a person married or by aiding a person to get married is concerned, shall be punished with imprisonment not less than three years, but may extend up to five years along with a fine of ₹2 lakh”.

As per Section 4B, any marriage which was done for the purpose of unlawful conversion “shall be declared void by family court”.

The newly amended law also books institutions or organisations which are involved in such activities. Under Section 4C, institutions or organisations will be tried under this law if they are found involved in unlawful conversions, as defined under Section 3 of the law.

Section 5 of the law mandates that religious priests must take prior permission from the district magistrate for converting any person from one religion to another. Moreover, the one who got converted also needs to “send an intimation” to the district magistrate in a prescribed form.

As per Section 6, prior sanction of the DM or a sub-divisional magistrate is necessary to start prosecution against the accused. However, as per Section 6A, the burden of proof is on the accused “who has caused the conversion”.

The court acted on a petition filed by the Gujarat chapter of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind challenging constitutional validity of some of the amended sections.

On Tuesday during the hearing, State Advocate General Kamal Trivedi told the court that there was no “ban on interfaith marriages” in the State but defended the new law saying that marriages cannot be the tool for “forceful conversion”.

Mr. Trivedi also submitted that there should be no fear about the provisions of the law.

“Why this fear? So long as genuine conversion is there, people need not worry. Interfaith marriage per se is not prohibited in this law. It only prohibits forcible conversion by marriage.”

He, however, contended that “the law says no person shall be converted by use of force, allurement, fraudulent means or by marriage for the purpose of conversion”.

In the petition, it has been argued that the amended law goes against the basic principles of marriage and the right to propagate, profess and practice religion as enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.

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