THE Gujarat High Court Friday, in an interim order, stayed the operation of several sections of the Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, including the provision that termed interfaith marriages as a means for forced conversion.
Inter-faith marriages between two consenting adults by operation of the provisions of Section 3 of the 2003 Act interferes with the intricacies of marriage including the right to the choice of an individual, thereby infringing Article 21 of the Constitution Of India, a division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav said.
The Gujarat Freedom Of Religion Act, 2003, was initially an Act brought into force in April 2003.
According to the then Section 3 of the 2003 Act, there was a prohibition of conversion of any person from one religion to another by use of force or allurement or by any fraudulent means. However, by an amendment made in 2021, a marriage itself is presumed to be a medium for unlawful conversion if the marriage was by way of allurement, force, or by fraudulent means.
The High Court opined that a plain reading of Section 3 would indicate that any conversion on account of marriage is also prohibited.
“From the perception of the common man, it appears that merely because a conversion occurs because of marriage, it per se cannot be held to be an unlawful conversion or a marriage done for the purpose of unlawful conversion,” the high court said.
Besides, the court held Section 6A of the 2003 Act places the burden of proof on the parties entering into an inter-faith marriage to prove that the marriage was not solemnised on account of any fraud, allurement, or coercion. This again puts the parties validly entering into an inter-faith marriage in great jeopardy, the court said.
The high court was ruling on an interim relief sought through two petitions — one filed by the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and the other by an Ahmedabad resident, Mujahid Nafees challenging the amended Act primarily on the grounds that the law is manifestly arbitrary and violates the right to privacy.
Senior advocate Mihir Joshi and advocates Muhammad Isa M Hakim appeared for the petitioner.