GUJARAT/NEW DELHI: With an aim to protect interfaith marriage couples from harassment, the Gujarat High Court on Thursday put an interim stay on the operation of some sections of the state’s anti-conversion law. A division bench comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav said the interim order was passed to protect people from unnecessary harassment. The HC said an FIR cannot be lodged unless it is established that the woman was lured into marriage on false pretenses.
The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, which penalises forcible or fraudulent religious conversion through marriage, was notified by the state government on June 15. Last month, the Gujarat chapter of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind filed a petition saying some of the sections were unconstitutional.
In the interim order passed on Thursday, Chief Justice Nath said, “We are of the opinion that pending further hearing, rigors of section 3,4, 4a to 4c, 5, 6, and 6a 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 can’t be termed as marriage for unlawful conversion.”
During the hearing, Gujarat government said three cases have been filed under this law to date and had argued on August 17 that the law does not prohibit interfaith marriages per se. But the bench observed that the language of the law does not make this stated intent clear and also ruled that provisions of the law cannot apply to inter-faith marriages where there is no evidence of force or fraud.
While the state government has not made any statement on the order, legal experts and social activists welcomed the interim stay.
The now stayed sections had penal provisions of up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of `50,000. If the victim is a minor, a woman or from SC or ST community, then the jail term will be four years