On the concluding day of its Budget Session, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Gujarat Assembly on Thursday, 1 April, passed a bill to amend the Dharma Swatantrya (Freedom of Religion) Act 2003, reported news agency IANS.
The new amendments were introduced to enforce stricter rules for penalising unlawful religious conversion through marriage, commonly termed by the right wing as the ‘Love Jihad’ law.
The Gujarat government has claimed that there is an emerging trend to lure women towards religious conversion under the garb of marriage, promising better lifestyle and divine blessings and this is the driving force behind introducing the amendment, added the report.
The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003 deals with religious conversion through alleged allurement, force or by misrepresentation or by any other fraudulent means.
Provisions of the Bill
The amended bill was tabled before the Assembly by Legislative Affairs Minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja. If found guilty under this law, the accused would be punished with imprisonment of not less than three years and up to ten years, and will also be liable to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh, as per the report.
The accused, if married to a minor, a woman or a person from SC or ST community, shall face a four-to-seven years’ imprisonment, and a fine of Rs 3 lakh. The offence considered non-bailable will be investigated by an officer above the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), stated the report.
The family court or any similar court can declare any such marriage that has been formed on the alleged intent to force religious conversion as void. The burden of proof to show that the marriage is not formed through coercion, misrepresentation, or any fraudulent means remains on the accused, added the report.
Chaos in the Assembly
The Gujarat Assembly saw chaos on Thursday as Congress legislator Imran Khedawala tore a copy of the bill proposal to amend the Freedom of Religion Act 2003.
“Nobody can force anybody to marry into a specific religion and in no religion it is written to forcibly convert anyone to accept that. In this bill, only one community is specifically targeted with words like ‘Jihadi’. I opposite this bill and I’m tearing down its copy,” said Khedawala, added IANS.
He further opined that the bill targets men from Muslim communities, and said he was hurt by Home Minister Jadeja only mentioning that Hindu women are targeted by men from a specific community.
His comments were followed by an uproar from the BJP members in the House.
(With inputs from IANS)
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