On April 1 2021, the Gujarat Assembly amended the Act of 2003 (Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act) by passing the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Amendment Bill 2021. It seeks to punish forcible or fraudulent religious conversion by marriage, by amending the Act. The Bill puts forth strict measures with almost 3 to 5 years of minimum imprisonment in cases of individual conversion and 4 to 6 years in cases that involve either a minor or a womanor people under section 4(A).
This Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2021 is passed in line with various other similar laws that were passed in states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
The Bill states in its ‘Objects and Reasons’, “there are episodes of religious conversion promising 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 Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003 under section 2 of the act, mentions only two categories for offer of temptation being :
“1. Any gift or gratification, either in cash or kind, and 2. a grant of any material benefit, monetary or otherwise.” The Bill proposed the addition of a third option of "better lifestyle, divine blessings or otherwise".
Section 3 of the act – originally prohibited ‘forcible conversion from one religion to another by use of force or by allurement or by fraudulent means’, but now will prohibit acts such as ‘forcible religious conversion by marriage or aiding a person to get married.’
The new Bill under section 4B of the act, also proposes that the marriages done with this purpose of forced conversion must be declared void. The bill made the offences under the act Cognizable and non-bailable in nature. The Bill of Amendment also calls for inclusion of some other categories who “shall be deemed to have taken part in committing the offence and they will be charged as if they actually committed the offence” , them being :
- “A person who does or omits to do any act for the purpose of enabling or aiding another person to commit the offence,
- A person who aids, abets, counsel convinces another person to commit the offence.”
It has now been laid down that anyone contravening the law, everyone in charge of that violation would be held responsible and could be potentially be imprisoned for 3-10 years and a fine of 5 lakhs could be imposed on them.