The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act or ‘love jihad’ law has been challenged in the High Court by Minority Coordination Committee, a Gujarat-based minority rights organisation and Jamiat Ulema-e Hind, an organisation of Islamic scholars belonging to the Deobandi school of thought.
The public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the court on July 19 was to be heard on July 28 but was postponed to be heard between August 5 and August 8.
“We are challenging the law on the ground that it is unconstitutional and goes against the basic right to religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution of our country,” Mujahid Nafees, the Convenor of Minority Coordination Committee, told the NewsClick.
“Everybody has the right to choose their partner irrespective of the religion and the State should not interfere in it. This amendment law also violates the freedom found in the Special Marriage Act of 1954 in India. Choosing marriage to anyone, following any religion is a fundamental pillar of personal freedom. This Act is also a violation of Article 51A (f) of the Constitution of India which clearly states that it is the duty of every citizen of the country to promote harmony irrespective of religious, linguistic, regional or communal differences. This law is also a clear violation of the equality of all before Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” added Nafees, who is the petitioner on behalf of Minority Coordination Committee.
Earlier, in a letter to the Governor of Gujarat, Nafees had stated: “The political conspiracy by masculine political leaders to impose their parochial agenda on the choice of women, is more visible. The Home Minister has not given any concrete figures in the purpose and reasons of this amendment law, nor has mentioned any number of cases in the state of religion conversion, whereas through his hate speech towards Muslim religion, the political agenda was clearly visible which is to create an atmosphere of fear among the people of Gujarat.”
Notably, the state government passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill in the budget session of the Assembly in April this year. Thereafter, the Governor gave assent to it on May 22 and the law came into force on June 15 this year.
Following which, the first arrest under the amended law was made on June 18. A 26-year-old man named Samir Qureshi was arrested in Vadodara after a complaint was filed against him accusing him of assuming a fake identity to lure a woman through social media, marrying her and later pressurising her of changing her religion.
Reportedly, about a month after the arrest of Qureshi, his wife retracted her statement by filing an affidavit in the court. In her statement, she refuted all charges against him and claimed that her husband did not force her to convert her religion.
However, a local court on July 5 denied Qureshi bail saying that the charges against him were too serious in nature.
In another instance, on June 23, three men –Mohib Pathan, 25, his father and brother were arrested by Vadodara police under the law. This was the second case registered under the amended ‘love jihad law’ in the week and third in the State. A complaint was filed by a woman in Fatehgunj police station in Vadodara against Pathan. The complainant stated that her marriage with Pathan was registered in August 2020, following which she shifted to Pathan’s home in the city. After living together for about a month, Pathan called a cleric and performed marriage rituals as per his religion and began pressuring her to change her name, the complainant further claimed.
Earlier this month, another Muslim man was arrested under the law in Dhoraji town of Rajkot in Saurashtra region of the state. Local police had told the media that said accused was absconding.
The amended Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that prohibits forcible conversion by marriage includes “better lifestyle” as an allurement and awards punishment of three to 10 years of imprisonment for such religious conversion.
Under the Act, any religious conversion made or aided for the purpose of marriage is punishable for not less than three years and up to five years in jail, and a fine not less than Rs 2 lakh. The Act also has provisions to include any organisation found allegedly violating the provisions of the Act and the person in-charge of the organisation can be jailed for a minimum of three and maximum of 10 years.
Notably, before the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act had been amended, the judiciary, in multiple instances, had come to the rescue of couples in inter-faith marriages. In one such case in January this year, an inter-faith couple from Banaskantha district of North Gujarat was released by police after a division bench of the Gujarat High Court ordered that they be immediately produced before the bench and released from police custody.
The couple, who had known each other for 29 years, had married allegedly against the wishes of the woman’s father and was sent to police custody for more than a week. On December 30 last year, the couple married in a temple in Rajasthan and travelled to Kerala after marriage. Following the complaint, Gujarat police travelled to Kerala and brought them back to Palanpur, Banaskantha, and subsequently held them in two different police stations in Palanpur. Thereafter, they were formally arrested on January 15, after the woman’s father filed an FIR.
On January 18, a habeas corpus petition was moved by the brother of the 30-year-old man. While hearing the case, the court had expressed its disappointment with the fact that the police had exercised “undue fervour”, with the officials travelling to Kerala to take a consensually married couple into custody.
In the order, the court further directed the Range Inspector General of Police (IG), “While conducting such inquiry, the Range IG concerned shall bear in mind that this is the case where undue fervour is shown on account of this being an inter-religion marriage, so also the golden words of the Supreme Court in such matters.”