Gandhinagar: After Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Pradesh passed ordinance prohibiting alleged forced religious conversion to check what it calls 'Love Jihad', The Gujarat government in all likelihood will table a Bill to amend the 'Dharma Swatantrya' (Freedom of Religion) Act, 2003 in the ongoing Budget session of the Assembly.
The amendment will seek to prohibit and punish religious conversions promising better lifestyle, divine blessings and impersonation.
"The amendment to the Dharma Swatantrya (Religious Freedom) Bill will be presented in the ongoing Budget session with certain changes to combat 'Love Jihad'," Gujarat Home Minister Pradipsinh Jadeja had told the press earlier.
The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act (2003) seeks to deal with religious conversion through allurement, force or by misrepresentation or by any other fraudulent means.
However, the state government believes that there have also been episodes of religious conversion promising better lifestyle, divine blessings and impersonation. There is an emerging trend where women are lured to marriage for the purpose of religious conversion, said the state government.
According to the provisions of the proposed amendment, whoever is found to be carrying out such religious conversions by marriage, or getting a person married or by aiding a person to get married, shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than three years and up to five years and will also be liable to pay a fine of Rs 2 lakh.
If the marriage is in respect of a minor, a woman or a person from the SC or ST community, the punishment shall be imprisonment of a minimum of four years to a maximum of seven years and a fine of Rs 3 lakh.
Further, any such marriage carried out for the purpose of unlawful conversion by the person of one religion with the person of another religion, either by converting himself or herself before or after marriage, shall be declared void by the family court or any other similar court.
The provisions of the proposed amendment further states that if any institution or organisation is found to be in charge of or responsible for such marriage, it shall be punished with imprisonment of minimum three years and up to 10 years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.
Moreover, the provisions say that the burden to prove that a religious conversion was not affected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or any other fraudulent means shall lie on the accused and his or her facilitators.
The offence of such religious conversion through marriage shall be considered cognisable and non-bailable and shall be investigated by an official above the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP).
"The Bill will prohibit and provide punishment for conversion by misrepresentation, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any fraudulent means. The Bill aims to control the menace of 'Love Jihad'. It will punish all those who try to cheat girls by changing names," Jadeja had told the reporters before the Budget session.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had also said at a rally in Vadodara before the local body elections that the modalities for a law against 'Love Jihad' have been put in place.
Most probably, the Bill will be tabled on April 1, the last day of the Budget session, according to sources.