26 Aug 2022 12:14 PM GMT
The Gujarat High Court has allowed 6 bail pleas filed by 8 persons accused of forcing tribals from Amod town in Gujarat's Bharuch district to convert their religion, upon a prima facie finding that there is no material to conclusively prove that the conversion was caused by the use of force."While there is existence of material suggesting allurement, there does not appear to be existence...
The Gujarat High Court has allowed 6 bail pleas filed by 8 persons accused of forcing tribals from Amod town in Gujarat's Bharuch district to convert their religion, upon a prima facie finding that there is no material to conclusively prove that the conversion was caused by the use of force.
"While there is existence of material suggesting allurement, there does not appear to be existence of any material which would suggest conversion by use of force."
Section 3 of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003 prohibits forcible conversion from one religion to another by use of force or by allurement or by fraudulent means and carries maximum imprisonment of 4 years.
The Bench comprising Justice Nikhil Kariel also rejected the contention that there was a commission of offences under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act), considering that there was no material to establish that the offences were committed on account of the status of the victims, as named in the FIR.
However, the bench refused the bail plea filed by the Vice President and President of one Baitulmal Trust which is accused of using donations for the purpose of alluring persons for adding and abetting conversion, punishable under Section 4C of the Act.
Section 4C provides that 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 ₹5 lakh can be imposed.
The Appellants herein were praying for release for offences u/s 120(B), 153(B)(C), 153(A)(1), 295(A), 506(2), 466, 467, 468 and 471 of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 4, 5 and 4(C) of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003, Sections 3(2)(v-a) and 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Section 84 of the Information Technology Act.
Senior Advocates Asim Pandya and IH Syed for the Appellants primarily submitted that the alleged offences took place in 2006 while the First Informant had converted only in 2018. Further, the Investigating Officer had found no allegations for an offence u/s 4(C) of the Freedom of Religion Act in which an institution contravening Section 3 carries a maximum punishment of 10 years. Additionally, the only offence which carries a punishment up to 10 years was an offence u/s 467 of IPC and there was no material to show that the offence of forgery to avail a valuable security or will was committed as under the provision. Thus, emphasis was primarily made on the alleged contravention of Section 4 of the Freedom of Religion Act which carried a maximum punishment of 4 years.
As regards the allegations of receiving INR 3.7 lacs for mass-conversion against the Baitulmal Trust and its Vice-President and President, Senior Advocate Syed argued that there was no material to show that the amount was used for illegal activity. The amount had been used for assisting widows, granting scholarships and charity for the poor. Thus, there was no contravention of section 4(C) of the Freedom to Religion Act by the institution.
Per contra, the Public Prosecutor Mitesh Amin contended that there were serious allegations of allurement against the Accused persons and therefore, bail ought not be granted. Per the PP, the 'conversion was pre-planned conspiracy' to convert members from the Scheduled Tribes to Islam. There was sufficient material collected by the Investigating Officer to establish that Aadhaar Cards were forged in pursuit of mass-conversion and such allegations could only be addressed subsequent to the trial. Attention was drawn to around 48 transactions of the Trust which were less than INR 50,000 from 2017 onwards till the charge-sheet was filed, to ensure that banks did not require KYC. Thus, there was a suspicious inflow of funds to the Trust. Meanwhile, Senior Advocate Panchal insisted that there was a 'systemic crusade' against Hindu Religion and there was a clear attempt to depict the Gods of one religion in 'bad light.' There were eyewitnesses to establish that the victims were threatened/intimated to convert.
Addressing the issue of forgery for getting Aadhaar Cards, the High Court opined that there was no evidence that such forgery had caused any loss to any person or the State as under Sections 466, 367, 468 and 471 of IPC. The High Court affirmed the contention that other offences alleged to have been committed carried maximum imprisonment of three years.
However, considering the nature of allegations against the Trust and the punishment u/s 4(C) of the Freedom of Religion Act (up to 10 years), the High Court declined to release the Appellants on bail.
Taking into account, the nature of allegations against the Appellants, the High Court ordered that they should not enter the limits of Bharuch District till the deposition of the First Informant was complete. They were also required to furnish residential addresses outside Bharuch district without changing such residence without prior intimation to Investigating Officer.
MR I. H. SYED, SR. ADVOCATE WITH MR. M.R. MOLVI, WITH ANIQ A. KADRI WITH MR MUHAMMAD QASIM VORA for the respective Appellants MR J M PANCHAL, SR. ADVOCATE WITH MR ROMIL L KODEKAR(5127) for the Opponent(s)/Respondent(s) No. 2 MR MITESH AMIN, PUBLIC PROSECUTOR WITH MR L B DABHI, APP for the Opponent(s)/Respondent(s) No. 1
Case No.: R/CR.A/535/2022
Case Title: YAKUBBHAI IBRAHIMBHAI SHANKER v/s STATE OF GUJARAT
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Guj) 353
Click Here To Read/Download Order