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Gujarat’s anti-conversion law reflective of a patriarchal and prejudiced mindset: Fr. Cedric Prakash

Fr. Cedric, in his article in Indian Currents magazine, questions the new provisions of the law, and states that it reveals the mindset of a fascist regime that is afraid that a discerning citizenry will expose their hegemony on the poor

Sabrangindia 13 Apr 2021

Vijay Rupani

In a recent issue of Indian Currents magazine, Fr Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist, wrote at length about the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 that was passed by the state Assembly on April 1 amidst strong protests from the Opposition members. Fr. Cedric has drawn parallels between Dr. Babasaheb’s speech to his 3.65 lakh followers openly propagating converting to Buddhism and the legislation of this day, and how if it were to take place today, Babasaheb and his followers would have been hauled up and imprisoned. He has questioned how would the government deal with Babasaheb’s call to his followers to convert to Buddhism to get human treatment as “Hindu society does not give equality of treatment”.

He recalls how the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003, one of the most draconian laws in the history of any democracy in the world was piloted by then Chief Minister of the state, Narendra Modi and was “clearly aimed at the minorities of the State particularly the Muslims and Christians”.

He states that there were attempts in subsequent amendments to say that one can convert, without permission and the possibility of punishment, to Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism since these religions belong to the ‘Hindu fold’ but these changes were withdrawn owing to protests from representatives of these religions.

“The point is not whether one has the right ‘to convert another’ but whether a citizen of India has the right to choose a religion of one’s choice,” says Fr. Cedric. He also asserts Article 25 of the Constitution which guarantees the freedom of conscience, the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion to all citizens and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which India is a signatory) which asserts that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

He questions the interference of the state into matters which are personal and private and thus violate the right to privacy affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2017. He also points towards the communal intent behind the 2021 amendment as Home Minister of Gujarat Pradipsinh Jadeja said, “Our Government will never forgive the Jihadi elements who abuse our daughters. Love Jihad is not our political agenda but it is our pain and our Government is determined to take strict action by converting this pain into the system”.

The 2021 Act

The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 provides more stringent punishment against forced religious conversions through marriage with three to ten years in jail and a fine of up to five lakh rupees if the accused is found guilty. He points out the differences between the latest amendment and the earlier law of 2003.

The original Act of 2003 specified only two categories of allurement or offer of temptation: Any gift or gratification, either in cash or kind, and a grant of any material benefit, monetary or otherwise.

The amendment bill proposes a third category: “better lifestyle, divine blessings or otherwise”.  Fr. Cedric makes his argument against this provision and questions who decides what is a so-called better lifestyle? He takes the instance of a person whose original religion dictated plenty of fast and penance – now s/he embraces a religion which say, allows eating plenty and perhaps a different type of food and also with less rigorous penance; all of this makes the ‘converter’ a happier person – could this be interpreted as a ‘better lifestyle?’

Insertion of new sections

Section 3A on Lodging of Complaint: Any aggrieved person, his parents, brother, sister or any other person related by blood, marriage or adoption may lodge an FIR

section 4A for Punishment for contravention of provisions Section 3 in case of marriage by unlawful conversion.: imprisonment of min. 3 years and maximum 5 years and fine of min. Rs. 2 lakhs

section 4B on Marriage by unlawful conversion: Any marriage which is done for the purpose of unlawful conversion by the person of one religion with the person of another religion, either by converting himself/herself before or after marriage shall be declared void by the Family Court

Section 4 (C), if any institution or organisation is found contravening the law, then every person who was in charge or was responsible for violation of law could be punished for imprisonment for three years (may extend up to 10  years) in jail and a fine of up to Rs. 5 lakh can be imposed

section 6A on Burden of Proof The burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected against the provisions of the Act shall lie on the person who has caused the conversion

The offences under the Act have been made Cognisable and Non-Bailable.

Fr Credric states that these provisions “reveal the mindset of a fascist regime that is clearly afraid that a thinking and discerning citizenry will expose their hegemony on the poor and marginalised, the Dalits and Adivasis of the country.”

He also questions why offences related to force and fraud, bribery and corruption, threat and kidnap already included under the IPC, cannot be invoked to deal with the myth of ‘love jihad’?

He then goes on to quote eminent Jurist and former Solicitor General of India, Mr. Soli Sorabjee who spoke against Gujarat’s Freedom of Religion Act in 2003, “One’s religious belief is essentially a private matter as is conversion from one’s religion to another. It is a result of deep-seated inner convictions. The State laws have the effect of deterring genuine conversions and impairing the substance of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. These laws have further shaken the confidence of the minority communities and accentuated their sense of insecurity.”

Father Cedric concludes saying, “This law needs to be protested because of its unconstitutionality. It must be withdrawn ‘in toto’, immediately!” and gave a call for action to resonate with Babasaheb’s cry: to defy anything unconstitutional and to openly propagate the right to convert to justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and to the religion of one’s choice.

Related:

Did the SC passingly affirm right to choose one’s religion?

Gujarat Assembly passes Freedom of Religion Amendment Bill, 2021

Nun harassment: Two Sangh Parivar members arrested, main accused still at large

Gujarat’s anti-conversion law reflective of a patriarchal and prejudiced mindset: Fr. Cedric Prakash

Fr. Cedric, in his article in Indian Currents magazine, questions the new provisions of the law, and states that it reveals the mindset of a fascist regime that is afraid that a discerning citizenry will expose their hegemony on the poor

Vijay Rupani

In a recent issue of Indian Currents magazine, Fr Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist, wrote at length about the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 that was passed by the state Assembly on April 1 amidst strong protests from the Opposition members. Fr. Cedric has drawn parallels between Dr. Babasaheb’s speech to his 3.65 lakh followers openly propagating converting to Buddhism and the legislation of this day, and how if it were to take place today, Babasaheb and his followers would have been hauled up and imprisoned. He has questioned how would the government deal with Babasaheb’s call to his followers to convert to Buddhism to get human treatment as “Hindu society does not give equality of treatment”.

He recalls how the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003, one of the most draconian laws in the history of any democracy in the world was piloted by then Chief Minister of the state, Narendra Modi and was “clearly aimed at the minorities of the State particularly the Muslims and Christians”.

He states that there were attempts in subsequent amendments to say that one can convert, without permission and the possibility of punishment, to Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism since these religions belong to the ‘Hindu fold’ but these changes were withdrawn owing to protests from representatives of these religions.

“The point is not whether one has the right ‘to convert another’ but whether a citizen of India has the right to choose a religion of one’s choice,” says Fr. Cedric. He also asserts Article 25 of the Constitution which guarantees the freedom of conscience, the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion to all citizens and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which India is a signatory) which asserts that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

He questions the interference of the state into matters which are personal and private and thus violate the right to privacy affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2017. He also points towards the communal intent behind the 2021 amendment as Home Minister of Gujarat Pradipsinh Jadeja said, “Our Government will never forgive the Jihadi elements who abuse our daughters. Love Jihad is not our political agenda but it is our pain and our Government is determined to take strict action by converting this pain into the system”.

The 2021 Act

The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 provides more stringent punishment against forced religious conversions through marriage with three to ten years in jail and a fine of up to five lakh rupees if the accused is found guilty. He points out the differences between the latest amendment and the earlier law of 2003.

The original Act of 2003 specified only two categories of allurement or offer of temptation: Any gift or gratification, either in cash or kind, and a grant of any material benefit, monetary or otherwise.

The amendment bill proposes a third category: “better lifestyle, divine blessings or otherwise”.  Fr. Cedric makes his argument against this provision and questions who decides what is a so-called better lifestyle? He takes the instance of a person whose original religion dictated plenty of fast and penance – now s/he embraces a religion which say, allows eating plenty and perhaps a different type of food and also with less rigorous penance; all of this makes the ‘converter’ a happier person – could this be interpreted as a ‘better lifestyle?’

Insertion of new sections

Section 3A on Lodging of Complaint: Any aggrieved person, his parents, brother, sister or any other person related by blood, marriage or adoption may lodge an FIR

section 4A for Punishment for contravention of provisions Section 3 in case of marriage by unlawful conversion.: imprisonment of min. 3 years and maximum 5 years and fine of min. Rs. 2 lakhs

section 4B on Marriage by unlawful conversion: Any marriage which is done for the purpose of unlawful conversion by the person of one religion with the person of another religion, either by converting himself/herself before or after marriage shall be declared void by the Family Court

Section 4 (C), if any institution or organisation is found contravening the law, then every person who was in charge or was responsible for violation of law could be punished for imprisonment for three years (may extend up to 10  years) in jail and a fine of up to Rs. 5 lakh can be imposed

section 6A on Burden of Proof The burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected against the provisions of the Act shall lie on the person who has caused the conversion

The offences under the Act have been made Cognisable and Non-Bailable.

Fr Credric states that these provisions “reveal the mindset of a fascist regime that is clearly afraid that a thinking and discerning citizenry will expose their hegemony on the poor and marginalised, the Dalits and Adivasis of the country.”

He also questions why offences related to force and fraud, bribery and corruption, threat and kidnap already included under the IPC, cannot be invoked to deal with the myth of ‘love jihad’?

He then goes on to quote eminent Jurist and former Solicitor General of India, Mr. Soli Sorabjee who spoke against Gujarat’s Freedom of Religion Act in 2003, “One’s religious belief is essentially a private matter as is conversion from one’s religion to another. It is a result of deep-seated inner convictions. The State laws have the effect of deterring genuine conversions and impairing the substance of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. These laws have further shaken the confidence of the minority communities and accentuated their sense of insecurity.”

Father Cedric concludes saying, “This law needs to be protested because of its unconstitutionality. It must be withdrawn ‘in toto’, immediately!” and gave a call for action to resonate with Babasaheb’s cry: to defy anything unconstitutional and to openly propagate the right to convert to justice, liberty, equality and fraternity and to the religion of one’s choice.

Related:

Did the SC passingly affirm right to choose one’s religion?

Gujarat Assembly passes Freedom of Religion Amendment Bill, 2021

Nun harassment: Two Sangh Parivar members arrested, main accused still at large

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