Hours after the Gujarat High Court refused to modify its stay on several sections of the amended law against forced religious conversion through marriage on Thursday, the state government said that it will approach the Supreme Court against the order, reported The Indian Express.
“We are moving ahead with firm determination to protect women of all religions, including Hindus,” Gujarat Home Minister Pradipsinh Jadeja said in a statement. “With firm willpower, we have raised the weapon of law on love jihad to fight jihadi elements abusing girls.”
“Love jihad” is the conspiracy theory espoused by right wing Hindu activists, alleging that Hindu women are forcibly converted by Muslims through marriage.
The Gujarat High Court had put a stay on several sections of the Act on August 19.
The Gujarat Assembly had passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2021, in April 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.
Similarly, Section 5 states that priests must take prior permission from the district magistrate for converting any person. The person who wishes to get converted also needs to inform the district magistrate in a prescribed form.
The court had stayed Sections 3, 4, 4A, 4B, 4C, 5, 6 and 6A of the Act. “[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 had said.
The order passed on August 19 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.
The state government had then urged the High Court to remove the stay on Section 5 of the Act, arguing that it is unrelated to marriage, reported Bar and Bench.
During Thursday’s hearing, Senior Advocate Mihir Joshi, appearing for the petitioners, opposed the state government’s request. “If Section 5 is not included, then the entire order is unworkable,” he argued. “The intention of your Lordships, of marriages being saved, would not operate without Section 5.”
Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, representing the state government, said that Section 5 was not included in the amendment but was there in the original law enacted in 2003.
“Since there is a stay on Section 5, no one will come for permission even if it’s a voluntary conversion without marriage,” Trivedi argued. “It is meant for such propositions where everything is done willingly. This order means the whole law now stands stayed.”
However, Justice Biren Vaishnav pointed out that the state government can pick up any person, even if the conversion is based on consent, and stop it by saying the citizen did not seek any permission.
Chief Justice Vikram Nath clarified that the stay on Section 5 was only related to permission in cases there is conversion along with marriage. He said that the stay would not be applicable for permission for conversion for any other reasons.
Following the court’s Thursday’s order, Jadeja, who is also the law minister, said that the government had brought the amendment to the legislation with the “noble intention” of preventing “fraudulent marriages and betrayal of women done by assuming fake Hindu identity, symbols and allurements.”
He claimed that there was no political agenda behind the law “but a conscientious attempt by the state government to create a system to protect girls”. Jadeja said some opponents had wrongly interpreted the law and moved the High Court.
Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, also ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, have 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.
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”.