As the Gujarat assembly budget nears the end, the incumbent government is likely to introduce a Bill seeking to penalise forcible or fraudulent religious conversion by marriage on Wednesday. The Bill will have provision for 3-10 years in jail and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh if the accused is found guilty.
The Bill amends a 2003 Act, and seeks to curb the “emerging trend in which women are lured to marriage for the purpose of religious conversion” as per its “statement of object.” A copy of the amendment Bill was made available in the State Assembly on Friday. Similar laws have been enacted in the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
A report by The Hindu stated that the Gujarat amendment Bill mentioned it is necessary to prohibit ‘forcible conversion by marriage or by getting a person married or by aiding a person to get married’, and hence the amendment was being carried out in the law.
So far, the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 has been dealing with religious conversion through ‘allurement, force or by misrepresentation or by any other fraudulent means’. But the bill presented in the Assembly also mentioned that there are episodes of religious conversion promising a better lifestyle, divine blessings, and impersonation.
“There is an emerging trend in which women are lured to marriage for the purpose of religious conversion,” the Bill added.
However, the offense shall invite imprisonment of 3-5 years and up to Rs 2 lakh fine. If the victim is a minor, a woman, a Dalit or tribal, then the offenders may be punished with a jail term of 4-7 years and a fine of not less than Rs 3 lakh.
Reportedly, if any organisation is involved in the crime, or it is found to be violating the law, the person-in-charge can be sentenced to between three to 10 years in jail with the fine going upto Rs 5 lakh. Marriages solemnised for the purpose of such conversion will be declared void and the burden of proof shall lie on the accused. In such a case, parents, siblings, or any other person related by blood to the victim can lodge a complaint, and the offences will be considered non-bailable.