The Gujarat high court on Thursday turned down the state government's plea seeking rectification of its recent order in which it stayed the operation of section 5 of the new anti-conversion law.
Section 5 of the Gujarat Freedom Of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021 mandates that religious priests must take prior permission from the district magistrate for converting any person from one religion to another.
Moreover, the one who got converted also needs to "send an intimation" to the district magistrate in a prescribed form.
"We do not find reason to make any changes in the order passed by us on August 19," a division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Biren Vaishnav after hearing the arguments put forth by state Advocate General Kamal Trivedi.
Trivedi, on behalf of the state government, told the bench that section 5 of the Gujarat Freedom Of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021 was there ever since the original law was enacted in 2003 and it has nothing to do with marriage per se.
He tried to convince the judges that a stay on section 5 would actually stay the application of the entire law itself, and no one would approach the authorities for seeking permission before getting converted.
On August 19, the high court stayed sections 3, 4, 4A to 4C, 5, 6 and 6A of the amended Act pending further hearing, saying they "shall not operate merely because a marriage is solemnised by a person of one religion with a person of another religion without force or by allurement or by fraudulent means and such marriages cannot be termed as marriages for the purposes of unlawful conversion".
Trivedi told the court that section 5 does not use the word "marriage" and it deals with permission from the district magistrate for conversion, either before or after marriage, or even in cases without marriage.
"Since there is a stay on section 5, no one will come for the permission even if it's a voluntary conversion without marriage. They will say that the high court had stayed the rigors of section 5. It is meant for such propositions where everything is willingly done. This order means the whole law now stands stayed," said Trivedi, while urging the bench to lift the stay on section 5 by rectifying the previous order.
"The other sections which have been stayed are related to marriage, while section 5 is for legal voluntary conversion. Under that section, if someone goes to the priest, the priest has to take the permission. It deals with lawful conversion. Why a section dealing with lawful conversion should be stayed?" asked Trivedi.
However, the bench told Trivedi that it is his own interpretation that the court has stayed the prior permission part for all sort of conversions.
"If a bachelor wants to get converted, he will require that permission. We have not stayed it. We have stayed the conversion through marriage only. That's what we have said in the order," Chief Justice Nath said while rejecting the state government's plea.
The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, which penalises forcible or fraudulent religious conversion through marriage, was notified by the BJP-led state government on June 15 this year.
Similar laws have also been enacted by BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Last month, the Gujarat chapter of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind filed a petition in the HC, claiming that some of the amended sections of the state's new law were unconstitutional.