Lucknow: “I am happy to see him, but our brother looks weak, keeps crying and is very silent.”
Over the phone, Mohammad Arif, 32, was worried, as he spoke about his brother Mohammad Shaqib, now at home in their village in northwest UP after being released on bail on 23 June 2021 after 188 days in Bijnor district jail. The Uttar Pradesh (UP) police accused Shaqib, youngest of three brothers, of “love jihad”, with the case against him quoting six sections of four laws, the severest of which carries a life term.
Arrested on 14 December 2020, jailed on 17 December and given bail by Allahabad high court on 15 June 2021, it would be another eight days before the youngster walked out of Bijnor district jail after six months and six days.
His family and lawyers said Shaqib is 18 years old but the largely illiterate family of daily-wagers have no birth record. A resident of Kirar Khedi village about 40 km east of district headquarters Bijnor, Shaqib is likely among the youngest to be charged under chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s law, the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021. If convicted, punishment can be upto 10 years jail with fines of minimum Rs 25,000.
On the same day as Shaqib was freed on bail, a bench of the Allahabad High Court comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Yadav and Justice Siddhartha Varma issued notice on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives challenging the so-called "love-jihad" law.
The court dismissed all petitions made against the ordinance as “infructuous”, and kept the hearing on the PIL against the law for 2 August.
The proceedings in court are distant for Shaqib, among almost 20 Muslim men who UP police arrested within a fortnight after the ordinance came into force on 27 November 2020. It became law on 24 February 2021 when the state assembly passed the bill.
From 27 November 2020, when the ordinance came into force, to 31 May 2021, UP police have filed 49 FIRs and arrested 76 people. Twelve FIRs were registered in Meerut range, highest in the state. As per police data, 65 of those arrested are in jail, 16 are out on bail and 25 are absconding.
Attacked And Arrested While On A Walk
As Article 14 reported on 11 January 2021, Shaqib was attacked by some men on the night of 14 December 2020 when he was on a walk with a girl from his village, a Dalit minor. He told his family he was going to a birthday party. He did not return home that night, and police informed the family the next day that he had been arrested.
The complainant was the father of the girl, with whom Shaqib, according to the complaint, tried to run away. The girl said that she went with Shaqib of her own will, and she had only been walking with him when they were accosted in nearby Nisarpur village where Shaqib was attacked. Article 14 has a video of the attack, where the girl is partially visible.
“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.”
The arrest has been difficult for Shaqib’s family of daily wage workers. “We have suffered a lot,” said his brother Arif. “It is a false case. Everyone knows my brother is innocent. Why implicate him is best known to those who complained against him.”
Shaqib’s lawyer Mashruf Kamaal, who is also a member of the National Confederation of Human Rights Organization, said police had failed to present the case diary even after a month on 15 January, leading to the postponement of the first bail hearing.
Article 14 sought comment several times from Bijnor superintendent of police Dharmveer Singh and the circle officer over two days on phone.There was no response. We will update this story if we receive one.
Six Charges Under Four Laws
Bijnor district court rejected his bail on 22 January, citing “grave crimes”. Shaqib had been booked under sections 363 (kidnapping), 366 (kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel her for marriage) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 and under sections 3 and 5 of the newly passed law prohibiting “unlawful conversions” through inter-faith marriage.
Since the girl was reportedly a minor and Dalit, additional charges were made out under section 18 (punishment for attempt to commit an offence) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which is punishable by upto “one half of the imprisonment for life”. He was also charged under section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 which carries the maximum punishment of a life-term.
Lawyer Ramesh Kumar moved the Allahabad high court on 12 February for bail. The case was taken up on 24 February, the hearing posted for 15 March.
On 15 March, the court observed that since Shaqib was also charged under the law on atrocities against Dalits, the complainant should be given notice. A court strike put off the 22 April hearing, and connectivity issues pushed back the 7 May hearing as well. Finally, the court heard his bail plea on 15 June.
Shaqib’s mother had told Article 14 that he worked as an understudy to a welder in Dehradun for two months and returned to their village only on 9 December, 2020. Within a week, he was in jail on non-bailable “love-jihad” charges.
Arif, illiterate like his brothers and mother, is grateful for the funds that helped the family secure bail. “Crowdfunding and support of human rights organizations helped us secure his release,” said Arif.
We had lost all hope. We do not know the law. All we know is that my brother is mentally unstable and made a victim of a conspiracy.”
The girl and her family, who spoke to reporters at the time of the event, now refuse to talk. “It is impossible that the ‘victim’ did not know the real identity (religion) of my client because only Muslims live in Kirar Khedi,” said Kamaal.
In Allahabad court, Kumar submitted that the case was “false and concocted” and Shaqib had no criminal records. He said the FIR had been delayed by 29 hours while Shaqib stayed in police custody though the police station was barely 10 km from where the incident occurred.
The bail order directs Shaqib not to “tamper with the witnesses” and commit to “not indulge in any illegal activities during the bail period”. The case will now continue in Bijnor court.
(Saurabh Sharma is an independent journalist based in Lucknow.)