Lucknow: For 29 days now, a Muslim teenager from a family of daily wage workers has been incarcerated in the district jail of Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh, facing charges under the the newly passed Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, or the ‘love-jihad’ law as it is popularly known, for allegedly trying to elope with a Hindu girl.
All offences under the Yogi Adityanath government’s new law are non-bailable, so the young man can only be released from custody by a court.
But at the hearing of his bail application on 8 January in the Bijnor district court, the investigating police team claimed they could not produce the case diary, according to Mashroof Kamaluddin, one of the teen’s lawyers. The case diary is a record of day-to-day updates in investigation.
The hearing had to be rescheduled for 15 January, in effect keeping the youngster in jail for more than a month.
According to his family, the boy is only 17 years old, though they have no document to support their claim. The first information report (FIR) does not state his age. Investigating officers refused to comment about the procedural lapse that has delayed the youth’s bail hearing.
According to the complainant, the father of a 16-year-old girl, the boy intended to “convert” the girl to Islam and elope with her. But family members of the accused boy, residents of Kirar Khedi village located about 40 km east of the district headquarters of Bijnor, point to a series of inconsistencies in the police’s case.
‘My Son Did Not Know The Girl’
According to the boy’s mother, whose identity we have withheld because of the young man’s uncertain age, the teenager returned to Kirar Khedi only on 9 December from Dehradun, where he had been a welder’s understudy for about two months. The incident prompting his arrest occurred just days later, on the night of 14 December.
“The girl was not known to my son... how could he know someone and try to elope in such a short period of time?” the mother told Article 14 over the phone. “That evening he told us that he was going to attend a birthday party and the next day we received a phone call from the police station that he had been arrested.”
Before going to Dehradun, the boy had been working with a welder in Jalandhar in Punjab. He walked nearly half of the 400 km from Jalandhar to Bijnor when the nationwide lockdown was imposed in March.
In addition to questioning the theory that the boy intended to elope with a near-stranger within days of his arrival in Kirar Khedi, his family claimed that policemen forced them to sign on some papers within days of the arrest.
“The police came to the house and took our signatures without telling us what was in that document,” said the mother.
Her eldest son, about 30 years old, told Article 14 that the family’s financial condition was precarious, and the five siblings were struggling to raise money for the legal fees and other expenditure they have incurred since the arrest. He also said the complainant himself had altered his statement.
“The girl’s father said at the police station on the night of 14 December that he does not want to register any police complaint," said the elder brother of the accused. “But later he changed his statement.”
He claimed the girl’s father had told the police “in writing” that he did not wish to pursue a case.
According to the FIR, the youngster presented himself to the minor Hindu girl as a Hindu boy, and allegedly introduced himself to her as Sonu. On 14 December, he allegedly tried to elope with the girl. The complainant told Article 14 that the boy intended to “convert her and then marry her”. He said his daughter “managed to run away from him on finding out that the boy named Sonu was Muslim. She then reached home and told us everything”.
The boy was booked under sections 363 (kidnapping), 366 (kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel her for marriage) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860; section 18 (punishment for attempt to commit an offence) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO); section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (any offence punishable under the IPC with imprisonment of 10 years or more against a person on the ground that he is a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe) and under sections 3 and 5 of the newly passed law prohibiting ‘unlawful conversions’ through inter-faith marriage.
Vigorous Implementation Of ‘Love-Jihad’ Law
While there is no legal definition of the term love jihad, some states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party have begun work on outlawing this so-called ‘social evil’. Adityanath has for long called it a conspiracy by Muslim men to entrap gullible Hindu girls into falling in love with them with the intent of conversion through marriage.
Just hours after the ordinance came into force, the Deorania police station in western UP’s Bareilly filed a case against a Muslim man for allegedly alluring a Hindu woman. He was arrested on 2 December 2020 and is currently on bail.
As many as 86 persons have now been named in 16 FIRs since the ordinance was promulgated on 28 November last year. Fifty-four people have been arrested. Of the 86 people booked, 79 are Muslim. All 79 stand accused of similar offences—allegedly enticing a woman and forcing her to convert to Islam, the Hindustan Times reported.
According to a senior police officer—speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media—at the headquarters of the UP Director General of Police, one case filed under the ordinance was found to be false. A fortnightly report is collected from all districts on cases and arrests, he said.
But a few months before the promulgation of the ordinance, a police special investigation team was already probing alleged cases of ‘love jihad’. In November 2020, an NDTV investigation that about half the 14 cases being investigated had collapsed and a closure report filed, stating that these were consensual relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women.
The channel found some of the cases still being investigated were also “unravelling” as women said they had not been coerced.
National Law University alumnus Surbhi Karwa and National Law School scholar Prannv Dhawan explained in Article 14 how UP’s new ordinance violates a host of constitutional rights, including the freedom to discover one’s faith and the right to privacy, and leaves the door open for the possibility of using the prescribed format for conversions to be violent and threaten those intending to convert.
Beaten By Villagers But No Mention Of Assault In FIR
The complainant told Article 14 that his daughter stepped out that night to answer nature’s call around 10.30 pm. “... an hour later we received a phone call from Nisarpur that she was there. My daughter is innocent and she fell for this boy.” According to him, she found out he was Muslim when they reached the other village, about 4 km away.
The boy’s family and other locals have circulated video clips in which he is being attacked by a group of villagers that night in Nisarpur. Article 14 is in possession of one of these video clips. The girl is seen partially in one of the clips.
The girl herself is reported to have said she went with the boy of her own will, and that she had only been walking with him when they were accosted in the middle of Nisarpur village where he was assaulted.
“I have told this to the magistrate, and I will say this again. Those men had a problem with me walking with my friend,” the girl told The Indian Express on 24 December 2020. “They made videos of me and are now calling it love jihad. I did nothing wrong. I went of my own free will.”
Despite the video clips of the assault and the girl’s account, the FIR makes no mention of the boy being beaten. It maintains instead that the girl ran away from him, returned home alone to Kirar Khedi and narrated the incident to her family. According to villagers, Shaqib was taken to Nehtaur police station near Nisarpur and then to Dhampur police station, about 12 km away. The girl returned home from Nisarpur with her father.
The girl’s father also alleged that the police dictated his statement to them, according to the Indian Express. “Why must she be made part of politics?” he was quoted as saying. “Is it unlawful for a boy and a girl to walk together now?”
But weeks later, the complainant would not allow Article 14 to speak to the girl. Asked about her statement that she had only been walking with the boy, he said, “The statement was made under pressure because my daughter was scared. Wo nadaan hai na (she is naive).”
Kamaluddin, the lawyer of the accused, alleged the police were delaying the bail hearing.
“The police today could not produce the case diary, which is why the court has to give us a next date for hearing,” said Kamaluddin. “We have enough evidence with us to prove that our client is innocent.”
The girl knew the boy was a Muslim and they were returning from a birthday party when the boy was beaten by villagers who thought he was a thief, said Kamaluddin.
Deputy superintendent of police Ajay Agarwal, the circle officer of Dhampur range, said the police had filed a chargesheet, and that the victim’s statement had been recorded before a magistrate. “The boy was sent to jail because the family could not provide any details about his age,” he said. “The matter is in court now.”
Lawyers and community leaders said the spate of arrests under the ordinance, including this case, has led to an atmosphere of fear among young Muslim men. Pranvesh (he uses one name), an Allahabad High Court lawyer who has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking that the new ordinance be quashed, said the law victimises one community. “... police complaints are being filed on the basis of apprehensions, which shouldn't be done as per law,” he told Article 14.
He said young Muslims were being singled out under the new ordinance in areas where the community has a sizable presence. “The good thing is that these cases, excluding a couple, are not standing in court for even a minute,” said Pranvesh. “The accused are getting bail from the lower courts, but the cases have served to sow fear in the Muslim community.”
(Saurabh Sharma is an independent journalist based in Lucknow.)