A 42-year-old Hindu woman in Gujarat has been booked by the police for getting her son baptised almost eight years ago, The Times of India reported on Friday. The woman, who is a single mother, was booked under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act for converting the boy’s religion without the district collector’s permission. The police are yet to identify the priest who conducted the ceremony, but have filed charges against him, PTI reported.
The police reportedly acted against Sudha Makwana on a petition filed with the Anand district collectorate in 2013 by a social worker identified as Dharmendra Rathod, who runs an organisation called Forum for Peace and Justice. Rathod challenged the boy’s baptism because the woman allegedly did not take the consent of her former husband, or seek the district magistrate’s approval. “The inquiry had been pending for about six years,” Rathod told the newspaper. “Anand district collector RG Gohil concluded it on January 3, 2020, and ordered the police to register an FIR in the case.”
Gohil told the newspaper that the woman’s action was “a gross violation of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act”. The law, which was promulgated in 2003, prohibits conversion from one religion to another “by force, allurement or fraudulent means”.
The woman had visited a Catholic church in Amod village of Petlad taluka on April 8, 2012, and requested the priest to arrange a baptism ceremony for her son. “No child can choose his or her religion – he or she adopts the parents’ religion, like in this case,” said human rights activist Manjula Pradeep. “The child can convert on becoming an adult; so there is no ground for filing an FIR against the mother just because she got her child baptised.”
However, Rathod claimed that since the boy’s father and mother were Hindus, his conversion to Christianity needed the consent of both and permission from the district magistrate. “The child’s parents married in 2001 and divorced in 2008,” he added. “After learning of his son’s conversion, the father – a Hindu OBC from Uttar Pradesh – challenged it in a letter to the Union home ministry in 2013. The ministry directed the then chief secretary to look into the case, but no action was taken.”