A single Hindu mother who had her son baptised at a local church in Anand eight years ago was booked under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act on Wednesday for converting her child without father’s consent and the permission of district collector, reports Times of India.
According to the reports, the Gujarat police registered a case after a petition was filed with the Anand collectorate in 2013 by Dharmendra Rathod, who runs an organisation called Forum for Peace and Justice.
In his complaint, Rathod had challenged the then eight-year-old child’s baptism on grounds of his mother had neither taken the consent of her estranged husband nor had applied for the district magistrate’s clearance before going ahead with the conversion.
“The inquiry had been pending for about six years. Anand district collector RG Gohil concluded it on January 3, 2020, and ordered the police to register an FIR in the case,” Rathod said.
Speaking to the media, District Collector Gohil said that a Hindu parent getting her child baptised without official sanction was “a gross violation of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act”. The purpose of the Act, which was promulgated in 2003, is to prohibit conversion from one religion to another “by force, allurement or fraudulent means”.
According to rights activist Manjula Pradeep, the 42-year-old woman facing prosecution had visited a church on April 8, 2012, on her own and requested the Catholic priest to arrange a baptism ceremony for her son.
“No child can choose his or her religion — he or she adopts the parents’ religion, like in this case. The child can convert on becoming an adult; so there is no ground for filing an FIR against the mother just because she got her child baptised,” she said.
Petitioner Rathod claimed that since the child’s father and mother were both Hindus, his conversion to Christianity was subject to both parents’ consent and subsequent permission from the district magistrate.
Rathod said that the child’s parents got married in 2001 and divorced in 2008. After learning of his son’s conversion, the father, who is a Hindu OBC from Uttar Pradesh challenged it in a letter to the Union home ministry in 2013. The ministry directed the then chief secretary to look into the case, but no action was taken, added Rathod.
The FIR against the mother has been registered under Sections 3 and 4 of the Act. Section 4 prescribes imprisonment for up to three years and a maximum fine of Rs 50,000 for any violation of the law.