[Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act] Gujarat HC grants interim bail after settlement by couple

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The Gujarat High Court recently granted interim bail to a man and his relatives who stood accused of various offenses under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 in a complaint lodged by the man’s wife (complainant).

Justice Ilesh J Vora granted interim relief in view of the petition filed by the complainant, along with the husband and his relatives, stating that the husband and wife had arrived at a settlement.

While granting bail, the Court also factored in that a Division Bench of the High Court had recently stayed the operation of several key provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2021, although the State had preferred an appeal opposing the stay.

On August 19, the High Court Division Bench had ordered that Sections 3, 4, 4A-4C, 5, 6 and 6A will not operate merely because the marriage is an inter-faith one, provided that the marriage is without force or allurement or fraudulent means. The Division Bench had observed that such marriages cannot be termed as marriages for the purpose of unlawful conversion, Justice Vora recounted.

The Court in the present case proceeded to grant interim bail to the accused husband and some of his relatives, who also stood accused in the case, without delving into the merits of the matter.

“At the interim stage, without examining the merits of the case, the petitioners no.1, 6, 7 and 8 are ordered to be released on bail on executing a personal bond of Rs.10,000 each, with one surety of the like amount to the satisfaction of the learned Trial Court,” the Court said.

Various conditions were also imposed for bail, including that the accused should not take undue advantage of liberty, that they should not prejudice the prosecution of the case, that they should surrender their passport and not leave India without prior permission.

By way of background, the complainant, a Hindu, and the accused man, a Muslim, were stated to have become acquainted with each other in 2019 after meeting via social media.

They are further stated to have developed an intimate relationship and later agreed to marry each other under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, while following their respective religions. After the said marriage took place in February 2021, they lived together as husband and wife, the Court was told.

As per the petitioners, some petty and trivial marital issues cropped up thereafter, leading to the woman leaving the marital home and staying at her parental home.

In June 2021, she filed an FIR alleging that the accused man had committed forcible sexual intercourse on her, taken obscene photographs of her, that he had compelled the woman to forcibly convert religion and used casteist slurs.

She further alleged that the husband’s relatives were also part of a conspiracy to commit these offences. Pursuant to that, a first information report was registered against the man, along with his parents and sister. Later, other relatives and the witness/ Kazi for the marriage were also arraigned as accused.

While so, the complainant-woman, the accused man and his relatives later jointly petitioned the High Court to quash the case, asserting that the matter has been settled.

The Court issued notice in the matter and posted it for further hearing in November while allowing bail to the accused.

“In light of the aforesaid law laid down by the Apex Court (on grant of interim bail) and considering the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case more particularly the settlement arrived at between the husband and wife i.e. informant and accused no.1, the petitioners have made out a prima-facie case for interim relief in the nature of bail. Thus, without entering into merits of the case, it is a fit case to exercise discretion under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to grant relief. Thus, considering the nature of dispute, severity of punishment and in absence of any past antecedents of like nature and as there is no possibility of fleeing from justice, the discretion is required to be exercised,” the order said.

Read Order here:

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