May 14, 2022 4:22:04 am
In an interim relief, the Supreme Court Friday directed “no coercive steps” against a maulvi who has been accused of alleged forced religious conversion in Bharuch. The apex court’s direction comes after the Gujarat High Court had refused to grant Maulvi Varvaya Abdul Vahab Mahmood anticipatory bail last month.
On Friday, a division bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and CT Ravikumar issued a notice keeping the HC order returnable one week after the ensuing summer vacation. In the interim, the apex court directed, “no coercive steps shall be taken against the petitioner (Mahmood) to take him into custody.”
Mahmood was named an accused in December 2021 upon addition of new charges to an existing FIR filed in November last year at Amod police station in Bharuch.
The original FIR, filed on November 15, 2021 at the Amod police station, was based on a complaint from tribal member Praveen Vasava in which he alleged that he was converted to Islam by several accused in 2018 and was rechristened Salman Vasant Patel.
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A case was registered under Section 4 of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, and provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertaining to charges of criminal conspiracy (120 B), causing disharmony (153 (B) (1) (c)) and criminal intimidation (506 (2)).
Nine people were named in the FIR for allegedly converting around 37 Hindu families and 100 Hindus on receiving financial aid and assistance from the other accused. The accused had “lured innocent Hindu tribals of the village with money and in some cases built houses for them and converted them into Islam”, Vasava had stated in his complaint. The converted Hindu tribals were later entrusted with the task of converting others from the community, he added. However, Mahmood’s name was not among the accused then.
Subsequently, the investigating officer filed a report seeking addition of sections pertaining to forgery of documents (466, 467, 468, 471 of IPC) and also offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. These additional offences were added to the FIR on November 30, 2021. On December 16, offences under Section 4A of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act as well as section 84 C (punishment for abetment of offences) of the Information Technology Act were added to the FIR and Mahmood was arraigned for conversion.
Meanwhile, fearing arrest, Mahmood moved a Bharuch court seeking anticipatory bail but was met with failure as his plea was rejected on December 28, 2021. The investigating officer had objected to the grant of anticipatory bail before the lower court alleging that Mahmood had “facilitated financial assistance to the convertees and given religious sermons/takirs demeaning Hindu religion,” and hence, Mahmood will be required for custodial interrogation.
Mahmood appealed against the lower court’s order before the Gujarat HC in January but the court of Justice BN Karia dismissed it on April 4. Subsequently, he moved the apex court against the HC order.
Seeking quashing of the HC verdict along with the grant of anticipatory bail, Mahmood, noted in his appeal that the HC has “gravely erred”. It stated that the court failed to apply its mind in not even recording that the charge sheet has been filed as of January 28 and making “blatantly factually incorrect” observations such as allegations of Mahmood receiving financial assistance for conversion as he was “not even named in the FIR”.
It also noted that the HC “failed to appreciate” that the complainant Vasava at the time of his conversion in 2018 had sworn in an affidavit that he is converting out of his “own free will”. The complainant’s allegations in the FIR are “explicitly contrary to the allegations made in the FIR of an induced conversion”, the appeal further stated.
“The high court ought to have returned prima facie finding on the falsity of the allegations in the FIR or directed proceedings under Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, to be initiated against the complainant (Vasava),” the appeal stated as it pointed out that as the complainant no longer followed the Hindu religion of his own volition, and hence, an offence under Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act cannot be charged.
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