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Written by: Arushi Bansal (Intern)

Edited by: Anubhav Yadav (Content Head & Developer)

The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 is found to be prima facie in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, according to the Gujarat High Court. A division Court of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav rendered a verdict on a petition filed by Muhammed Hakim, challenging the statute’s provisions barring forcible marriage conversion. Gujarat Governor Acharya Devvrat approved it on May 22. The anti-love jihad bill was enacted by the State Assembly on April 1 following a long discussion. The Supreme Court ruled in Shafin Jahan against Ashokan that a conversion cannot be considered illegal simply because it has occurred. Congress defeated the bill, which was accompanied by MLA Imran Khedawala, who said that it primarily targeted the Muslim community as a scapegoat. In a judgment issued on August 19, the Supreme Court stated that the law effectively prohibits any conversion-based marriage.

Interfaith marriage would be punished under the June 21 changes to the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, according to Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav. According to Prima Facie, “we consider that interfaith marriage followed by conversion is equivalent to an interfaith marriage,” based on a basic interpretation of Section 3 of the 2003 Act. It is stated by the judges that simply because conversion occurs as a result of marriage, it cannot be considered a criminal conversion. They provide the government the power to begin a police investigation into the parties’ intentions to convert for the sake of marriage. As a result, the court expressed concern about how the typical person may regard every instance of interfaith marriage as illegal and made some key points in its order.

Apart from being ambiguous and broad, the rules also test the extent to which the government can intervene in people’s private lives. It is a violation of an individual’s freedom to marry a spouse of different faith and to convert from one’s religion for that purpose according to legal authorities. According to state officials at first, interfaith marriages based on fraud or coercion were not prohibited by law. Kamal Trivedi argued that the Act as a whole must be read to determine how to interpret the provision. In addition to being unclear and wide, the rules question the government’s ability to intrude in people’s private lives. The right to choose one’s spouse and the freedom to promote one’s religion are both fundamental rights that the new anti-conversion legislation infringes on.

Section 6A places the burden of proof for showing compulsion on the other spouse, while Section 4 authorizes the aggrieved individual, their parents, brother or sister, or any other family member to submit a complaint against the conversion and subsequent marriage. As a result, the High Court’s reading will be subject to its ultimate conclusion because the law’s remaining clauses have still to be evaluated. Once a resolution has been reached on the bigger issue, it will be required to ratify the smaller details.

In addition, Section 6A, which shifts the burden of proof, was enacted. There are further clauses such as Section 6A, which shifts the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the defendant.

The HC ruling, notwithstanding its preliminary nature, provides relief to interfaith couples who have been harassed. It’s likely that the reading will influence issues that are currently being discussed in other HCs. However, because larger constitutional complexities are often difficult to grasp, especially when the ruling isn’t final and enforced, its real impact on the ground may be limited.

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