Gujarat: Court rejects bail to accused under amended conversion law

A local court in Vadodara Monday upheld the ongoing police investigation into the first case filed under the amended Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act registered with Gotri Police Station in the city and rejected the bail application of the accused husband, stating that the court has to be “cautious in granting bail as religious sentiments were involved”.

The Additional Sessions Judge of Vadodara, who heard the arguments on Monday, said it could not be ruled out that the second affidavit filed by the complainant wife, urging bail to be granted to the husband, was made under duress and threat.

Upholding the police investigation, the Vadodara court held that a prima facie case against the accused could be made out for befriending the woman under a fake identity, raping her after winning her trust, and forcing her to convert and marry in presence of her parents by threatening to make her nude pictures viral. The court considered the strong opposition of the District Government Pleader Advocate Anil Desai, on behalf of Vadodara police, against bail to the accused as “religious sentiments” were involved.

The court observed that the defence counsel’s submission, which claimed that the victim and her mother were instigated to file a complaint by a certain group of people of the community and that it was a case of a love affair between the accused and the victim, could not be upheld.

The court also stated that a fresh affidavit filed by the victim on June 24, supporting the bail application of the accused could not be considered. The court order cited the victim’s claim in her affidavit, and said, “…She has told the court in the affidavit that she had merely signed the complaint without knowing what was mentioned… but was surprised when she learned the contents… she has urged the court to grant bail.”

The court considered the argument of the government pleader that the affidavit of the complainant wife should be ignored and the bail application rejected as the “police investigation was underway”. The court also pointed out that the statement of the victim before the magistrate had to be considered over her second affidavit.

The 6th Additional Sessions Judge, Vadodara, PT Patel, said in his order in the open court, “…prima facie allegations leveled in the complaint (of forced religious conversion, rape and forced termination of pregnancies) are of nature which can be believed at this stage…the victim had to terminate her pregnancy three times… once she had to even terminate her pregnancy of five and half months….”

“The affidavit of the complainant and her mother are solemnized on June 24, 2021 and the bail application presented on June 28, 2021, and so it is clear that the affidavit of the victim and her mother were taken up before filing this bail application. It also prima facie appears that the signature of the victim in the complaint (FIR) and affidavit filed by her are different. So, the possibility of the victim and her parents being threatened cannot be ruled out at this stage.”

Citing the impact the case has on the society, the court said, “The court has to be very cautious in the bail application of such nature as it relates to the sentiments of the religions… looking at the gravity and seriousness and the impact of the offence on the society and the manner in which the victim is facing threat or fear, this court does not find any substance as to exercise discretion in favour of the accused to release him on regular bail at this stage.”

DGP Desai had argued that the charges against the accused are of a very serious nature.

The Gotri Police Station had booked the accused under Indian Penal Code Sections for domestic violence [498(A)], repeated rape of a woman [376(2)(N)], unnatural sex (377), voluntarily causing a woman with a child to miscarry against her will (312, 313), insulting with the intention to provoke and break public peace (504), criminal intimidation [506(2)], assault (323), 419, criminal conspiracy [120(B)] and relevant sections of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2021 for forcing conversion by luring and cheating into marriage, and various sections of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities ) Act,1989.

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