The Gujarat High Court on Thursday put a stay on several sections of the amended law against forced religious conversion through marriage, The Indian Express reported. The sections put on hold include the one that defined interfaith marriage as a reason for forceful conversion.
The Gujarat Assembly had in April passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2021, to stop the “emerging trend in which women are lured to marriage for the purpose of religious conversion”. The law provides for a punishment of three to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.
The Bill enacted new provisions, including a revised definition of “prohibition of forcible conversion”. Section 3 of the Act was amended to criminalise conversion “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”, according to The Indian Express.
The court has now put a stay on Sections 3, 4, 4A, 4B , 4C, 5, 6 and 6A of the Act.
The order passed on Thursday is an interim one on two petitions challenging the new amendments. The petitions submitted that the amended law goes against the basic principles of marriage and violates Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to propagate, profess and practice any religion.
“[These laws] 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,” Chief Justice Vikram Nath said, according to PTI.
He added that the interim order would protect interfaith couples from “unnecessary harassment”.
In a previous hearing on the matter on Tuesday, the Gujarat High Court bench of Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav had noted that the law kept a “sword hanging” over interfaith couples due to the impression that such marriages were not allowed in the state, The Hindu reported.
The observations came after Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, representing the Gujarat government, submitted that interfaith marriage was not prohibited under the law but it could not be “used as a tool or instrument for effecting forceful conversion”.
Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, also ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, have also introduced ordinances that criminalise interfaith marriage under the fig leaf of “love jihad”. The Haryana government had also formed a three-member drafting committee in November to frame a law against forced religious conversion.
“Love jihad” is the conspiracy theory espoused by right wing Hindu activists, alleging that Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage.
The BJP-led central government had itself told the Lok Sabha in 2019 that no “case of ‘love jihad’ had been reported by any of the central agencies”. The National Commission for Women also does not maintain any data about “love jihad”.