AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat government on Tuesday strongly defended its new anti-conversion law before the High Court, claiming the legislation only deals with "unlawful" religious conversion through marriage and does not prohibit people from entering into inter-faith wedlocks.
To further allay apprehensions raised by a petitioner as well as the Gujarat HC about the new law, Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, on behalf of the state government, said the legislation has several "safety valves", such as prior approval of a district magistrate or an SDM- level officer to initiate prosecution.
After hearing the government's arguments, a division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav kept the next hearing on August 19 for pronouncement of an interim order.
The bench is hearing a petition challenging provisions of the law which penalizes forcible or fraudulent religious conversion through marriage.
The petition against the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, was filed last month by the Gujarat chapter of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind.
The Act was notified on June 15.
During past hearings, the petitioner's lawyer, Mihir Joshi, had claimed the amended law has "vague" terms which are against basic principles of marriage and right to propagate, profess and practice religion as enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.
Since the law says no person shall be converted by use of force, allurement, fraudulent means and by marriage, Joshi said, it becomes an offence under its provisions if two persons of different faiths get married.
In his response, AG Trivedi told the bench that people should not have any fear about the law.
"Why this fear? So long as genuine conversion is there, people need not worry. (Inter-faith) marriage per se is not prohibited in this law. It only prohibits forcible conversion by marriage."
"The law says no person shall be converted by use of force, allurement, fraudulent means or by marriage for the purpose of conversion," Trivedi argued.
Trivedi said no FIR has been lodged just on the ground of inter-faith marriage under this law as it does not prohibit such wedlocks per se.
"This is not the usual IPC section. The law mandates that the case must be investigated by a Deputy SP-rank officer, not any constable or PSI. Further, prosecution will not start without the sanction of the District Magistrate or the Sub-Divisional Magistrate. These are the safety valves given under the law," said the state government's top law officer.
Trivedi added that the focus of the law on unlawful conversion and not marriages as stated by the petitioner.
He informed the court that only three complaints had been registered across the state under this law so far.
The BJP government had passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill in the Assembly during the budget session.
Governor Acharya Devvrat gave his assent to the bill on May 22.