The Gujarat Assembly on Thursday passed a Bill to amend the ‘Dharma Swatantrya’ (Freedom of Religion) Act, 2003 which aims to combat forceful religious conversions, better known as ‘Love Jihad’, on the concluding day of the Budget session.
Tabled by the ruling BJP, the amendment seeks to prohibit and punish religious conversion promising better lifestyle, divine blessings and impersonation on the pretext of marriage.
The Bill was tabled in the state Assembly by Legislative Affairs Minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja.
The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 sought to deal with religious conversion through allurement, force or by misrepresentation or by any other fraudulent means. However, the state government felt that there were episodes of religious conversion promising better lifestyle, divine blessings and impersonation.
“The state government feels that there is an emerging trend where women are lured to marriage for the purpose of religious conversion,” cited the BJP government as the reason to bring in this amendment.
According to the provisions of the Bill, whoever is found to be carrying out such religious conversion by marriage, or getting a person married or by aiding a person to get married shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than three years and up to five years and will also be liable to pay a fine of Rs 2 lakh.
If the marriage is in respect of a minor, a woman or a person from SC or ST community, the punishment shall be of imprisonment of a minimum of four years to a maximum of seven years and fine of Rs 3 lakh.
Further, any such marriage carried out for the purpose of unlawful conversion by the person of one religion with the person of another religion, either by converting himself or herself before or after marriage, shall be declared void by the family court or any other similar court.
The provisions of the proposed amendment further states that if any institution or organisation is found to be in charge of or responsible for such marriage, it shall be punished with imprisonment of minimum three years and up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.
Moreover, the provisions say that the burden to prove that a religious conversion was not affected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or any other fraudulent means shall lie on the accused and his or her facilitators.
The offence of such religious conversion through marriage shall be considered cognisable and non-bailable and shall be investigated by an official above the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP).