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India

‘Lift stay on law banning forced conversion’: Gujarat govt tells SC

New Delhi, December 4: The Gujarat government has approached the Supreme Court to lift the stay operating against its law banning forced conversions in the state.
In a response filed by the Gujarat government to a PIL seeking a ban on forced religious conversions filed by Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, the Gujarat government backed the need for having a law to stop ‘forced conversion’ citing the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003. The Act prevents freedom of religion by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another by use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means.
The Gujarat government in its affidavit has also pointed out that it seeks the lifting of ‘Section 5’ of its 2003 Act which provides for prior permission to be taken from the District Magistrate before any person is converted.
The provisions in the 2003 Act were stayed by the Gujarat high court (HC) on August 19 and August 26 last year on a petition filed by Jamiat Ulama –e-Hind against this order. The HC stayed several provisions of the Act, including Section 5 requiring prior permission for conversion from DM.
The state informed the apex court in its affidavit that with a similar issue being considered by the top court in a PIL, an application has been filed by the state on Friday in the pending appeal to lift the stay ordered by the HC.
Emphasising the need for having this safeguard in place, the affidavit by the state said, “The exercise of taking prior permission also obviates the forcible conversion and protects the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all the citizens of the country.”
It further stated that the steps stipulated under the 2003 Act are the “precautions to ensure that the process of renouncing one religion and adopting another religion is genuine, voluntary and bona fide and at the same time, free from any force, allurement and fraudulent means.”
The state affidavit further said that the 2003 Act and more particularly Section 5 seeks to maintain the public order within the state of Gujarat by protecting the cherished rights of vulnerable sections of the society including women and economically and socially backward classes.
The SC had recently directed the Centre to make its stand clear on the PIL filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay stating ‘forced religious conversion’ is a serious matter and may affect the security of the country.
On November 28, the SC directed the Centre to gather data from states on the incidents of forced conversion after being told that nine states have enacted laws to penalise illegal forced conversion based on intimidation, threat, allurement or deception. These states include Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Haryana.
The PIL filed by Upadhyay will be heard by a bench headed by Justice MR Shah on Monday. (Agencies)

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