Lift HC stay on rule for conversion via marriage: Gujarat govt in SC | India News

NEW DELHI: On the heels of the Supreme Court order terming religious conversions through allurement, deceit or fraud a very serious issue which may affect national security, the Gujarat government on Saturday requested the SC to lift the high court stay on Section 5 of the Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 which mandated prior permission of the district magistrate for conversion through marriage.
While hearing a PIL by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay, a bench headed by Justice M R Shah on November 14 had said, “The issue with respect to the alleged conversion of religion… is a very serious issue which may ultimately affect the security of the nation and violate citizens’ right to freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion. Therefore, it is better that the Union government may file a counter on what further steps can be taken to curb such forced conversion…”
The Centre, in its preliminary response, had said that freedom of religion and right to propagate one’s religion does not include the right to convert others to the preacher’s religion. Speaking on the same lines, the Gujarat government, through its counsel Swati Ghildiyal, said the state’s 18-year-old law was challenged by Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind before the HC, which had stayed many provisions, including the operation of Section 5 which mandated the district magistrate’s prior permission for religious conversions through marriages.
The state said, “Taking prior permission obviates forcible conversion and protects the ‘freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to citizens. The steps stipulated are precautions to ensure that the process of renunciation of one’s religion to adopt another is genuine, voluntary and bona fide and, at same time, free from any force, allurement and fraudulent means.”
Adopting the Centre’s stand, the state, in the midst of assembly elections, said the right to freedom of religion does not include a fundamental right to convert other people to a particular religion, especially through fraud, deception, coercion, allurement or other such means.
Copying a paragraph from the Centre’s affidavit, it said, “The meaning and purport of the word ‘propagate’ falling under Article 25 of the Constitution was discussed and debated in great detail in the Constituent Assembly and the inclusion of the said word was passed by the Constituent Assembly only after the clarification that the fundamental right under Article 25 would not include the right to convert.”
Gujarat said the SC had earlier upheld the constitutionality of the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam, 1968 and the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, which are similar to the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, and ruled that fraudulent or induced conversion impinged upon the right to freedom of conscience of an individual apart from hampering public order and, therefore, the state was well within its power to regulate/restrict the same.
The BJP-governed state said its 2003 legislation had held sway for 18 years with the object of maintaining public order by protecting the cherished rights of vulnerable sections of society, including women and economically and socially backward classes. Gujarat has separately challenged the HC order staying operation of certain provisions of the 2003 Act as amended in 2021. The SC on February 14 this year had sought Jamiat’s response but the case had not been listed for hearing since then.

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