Recently, the Gujarat Assembly passed a Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that penalize forcible and fraudulent religious conversions by marriage. The Home Minister of state, Mr. Jadega said that this law is for girls who are lured into marriage with an intention of religious conversions. The bill has been passed by majority in Gujarat Vidhan Sabha. The act has been passed to bring more stringent measures with a minimum imprisonment of three years which may extend the five years in case of converion and imprisonment for 4 years which may extend to seven years in case of minor, women or SC/ST. After passing the bill the Gujarat has become 3rd state to make laws against love jihad after Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The term love jihad is not clearly defined under the existing law as no such case has been reported so far.
Salient features of the bill
- The term “allurement“ under the principal act is amended by inserting the words “better life style, divine blessing or otherwise”, person offering these shall be punished.
- The term “fraudulent means” also proposed to be amended as per the definition mention under section 2(d) which reads as “the term includes misrepresentation or any fraudulent, contrivance, impersonation by false means, surname, religious, symbol or otherwise”.
- A new section has been inserted in the bill that any aggrieved person, his parents, brother, sister, or any person related to blood, marriage or adoption may lodge FIR with police station having jurisdiction for the offence committed under the Act.
- The new bill proposed to prohibit acts like forcible religious conversion by marriage or aiding a person to get married.
- The person who takes part in committing the offence shall be punished with same penalties as if he has committed the offence under the Act.
- A New section 4A is inserted which provides for the punishment for the sole purpose of conversion and for aiding to get married shall be punished with imprisonment for 3 years which may extend to five years and a fine which is not less than 2 lakh.
- The bill places the burden of proof of innocence on the person who caused the conversion and where such conversion has been facilitate by any person, on such other person.
- Marriage solemnized for the purpose of such conversion shall be declared void.
- The offences under the law were made cognizable and non-bailable and the same shall be investigated only by the officer who is not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
Comparative analysis between the principal Act and the new bill
- The original Act contains terms like “allurement” and “fraudulent” means where as in the new bill these terms are amended by adding words like better lifestyle, divine blessing and impersonation.
- Section 7 of the principal Act provides for the offences under the act shall be cognizable and will be investigated by an officer not below the rank of a Police Inspector but as per the new bill the offence were made cognizable and non-bailable and will be investigated only by an officer who in not below the rank of Deputy superintendent of police.
- Section 4 states that any person who contravenes the provisions of the act shall be penalized. The new bill not only proposes to punish the person but it does include those people who are actively participated in the act plus take any part in the commission of the offence.
- In the previous act the punishment for convention to section 3 was imprisonment up to a maximum of 3 years and up to a maximum of 4 year if a women, minor or individual belonging to SC/ST is involved. In the current act however, the imprisonment imposed has to be a minimum of 3 years while it can be extended up to 5 years. In case if a women, minor or individual belonging to SC/ST is involved, the imprisonment imposed has to be a minimum of 4 years while it can be extended up to 4 years.
- The principal Act does not precisely mention the provision of FIR by the aggrieved person, his parents, brother, sister or any other person blood related, marriage or adoption, the present bill codified the same.
The very next day to the bill assented, a letter had been written by the Minority Coordinate Committee to the Governor, demanding cancellation of the bill by calling it unconstitutional and mention it as a tool which can be misused against minorities. The soul foundation of the bill is violation against the freedom of religious rights. In his letter he further conveyed that it does not only violets the religious rights but it also violates the freedom to marry under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, Article 51A(f) of the constitution of India which states that it is the duty of every citizen of the country to promote harmony irrespective of religious, linguistic, regional or communal differences, right to equality under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution and Declaration of International Human Rights, 1948 of which India is part of.
Currently, the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2021 is passed with the majority in the Vidhan Sabha with an aim to combat the forceful conversion for the purpose of marriage. However, the opposition questions its intentions and called the bill unconstitutional and a tool which can be used against the minorities.