The Gujarat government on Saturday urged the Supreme Court to lift the stay imposed by the High Court on certain sections of the state’s amended anti-conversion law, PTI reported.
In August last year, the Gujarat High Court had put a stay on several sections of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act on August 19, 2021. The law had been passed in April last year to stop the “emerging trend in which women are lured to marriage for the purpose of religious conversion”.
The legislation is an amendment to the state’s Freedom of Religion Act of 2003.
In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, the Gujarat government has said that the law passed in 2003, and more particularly Section 5 of the Act, has been “holding the field for the last 18 years” to achieve the objective “to maintain the public order”.
Section 5 of the law 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 Gujarat government made the submission in response to a petition filed by advocate and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay. He has sought directions to the Union and state governments to take steps to prevent black magic, superstition and forceful religious conversions.
In Saturday’s affidavit, the government said that the requirement of taking prior permission prevents forcible conversion and protects the freedom of conscience guaranteed to the citizens.
“It is submitted that the steps stipulated in Section 5 are the precautions to ensure the process of renouncing one religion and adopting another is genuine, voluntary and bona fide and free from any force, allurement and fraudulent means,” the government said in the affidavit.
The government also added that freedom of religion does not include a fundamental right to convert people to other faiths.
“The said right certainly does not include the right to convert an individual through fraud, deception, coercion, allurement or other such means,” it said.