Amended Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act: Court denies bail to man held for ‘forcible conversion’

The case relates to a garage owner in Dhoraji town of Rajkot who was arrested for allegedly raping a married woman and trying to force her to convert after befriending her, claiming he was an unmarried man, despite being married with three children.

In the first case registered in Saurashtra under the amended Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act that came into force from June 15 this year, a 31-year-old man, accused of forcible conversion, was denied bail by a Rajkot court.

Charged under section 4 of the act, which includes punishment for forcible religious conversion, the court order on September 8 comes after the Gujarat High Court stayed the operation of section 4 along with seven other sections of the new act on August 19, pending further hearing of the petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the amendments.

The case relates to a garage owner in Dhoraji town of Rajkot who was arrested for allegedly raping a married woman and trying to force her to convert after befriending her, claiming he was an unmarried man, despite being married with three children. The man continues to be judicial custody at a sub district jail in Dhoraji. The FIR filed on July 11 by the 29-year-old woman, also charged the accused under Indian Penal Code section 376 (2) (n) for repeated rape and 506 (2) for criminal intimidation.

The complainant woman, who is married and has a four-year-old daughter, “was not maintaining good relations with her husband” when she became friends with the accused, as said in the FIR, and the two established physical relations.

According to the FIR, after the complainant realised the accused is a married man, he allegedly told her that if she embraces his religion, he would divorce his wife and marry her. After registering the FIR, the complainant also submitted a supplementary complaint to the police station alleging that the accused had taken intimate photographs and was threatening her to withdraw the case.

Representing the accused, advocate KM Mehta submitted before the court that both the complainant and the accused are adults and the relationship was consensual, adding that the accused never misrepresented his religion. Seeking bail for the accused, it was also pointed out that the provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, had been stayed by the Gujarat HC.

Government counsel KM Parekh, however, opposed the bail application, while adding that the Gujarat HC’s stay on certain provisions of the Act are conditional and prima facie offence of rape is made out.

Additional sessions judge of Dhoraji court in Rajkot, RM Sharma, rejected the bail application, considering the nature of allegations and offence, severity of punishment as well as the fact that the victim is a woman.

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