Updated: August 18, 2021 7:39:49 am
“Marriage (interfaith) per se” was not prohibited but it could not be “used as a tool or instrument for effecting forceful conversion”, the Gujarat government on Tuesday told the High Court. The court was hearing two petitions challenging the recent amendments to the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021.
In response to the submission by Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, a bench led by Chief Justice Vikram Nath, however, said that the law kept a “sword hanging” on interfaith couples and that it can’t be read (from the Act) that interfaith marriage is permissible.
Section 3 of the 2003 Act was amended this year to redefine “prohibition of forcible conversion” as “no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another 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 nor shall any person abet such conversion”. This was challenged before the Gujarat HC.
The division bench that also has Justice Biren Vaishnav posed a query to the state counsel, AG Trivedi, on whether “marriage (interfaith) by itself, without any allurement, any fraudulent means or coercion, would amount to prohibition (of forcible conversion)…”
Trivedi responded that “marriage (interfaith) by itself is not prohibited…what is sought to be prohibited is (as stated in ‘statement of objects and reasons’) ‘it is considered necessary to prohibit the forcible conversion by marriage’…This word ‘marriage’ (in Section 3) takes its colour from the company of the words around it”. As per Trivedi, the context of marriage comes only if there is “force, allurement or by any fraudulent means”.
The bench implored Trivedi that if he wants to make a statement on how the provision must be read, they will record the same. “But say that this (section 3) has to be read like this (in conjunction with the three elements of force, fraudulent means or/and allurement),” the bench said, to which Trivedi responded that he can take instructions and provide the same in writing.
The petitioners at the previous hearing had highlighted how specific provisions of the amended Act further endangers interfaith couples to prosecution, based on complaints from any third party.
The law came into effect in June and since then there have been three complaints, AG Trivedi told the court.
Chief Justice Nath responded, “But we can’t read that (from the Act, that interfaith marriage is permissible)…Why should we wait for even a single incident to happen…?”
The bench has kept the matter for orders for August 19.
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