Lucknow: In just over two weeks since the Yogi Adityanath-government in Uttar Pradesh passed the “love-jihad” ordinance, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police has moved with uncharacteristic alacrity to arrest 10 people, book another 24 and lodge at least six FIRs, police officials have confirmed.
One of the first FIRs was filed on the night of 28 November, the day the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance—to use its proper name—came into effect. Registered by Deorania police in the western district of Bareilly on the complaint of the father of a 19-year-old Hindu woman of Shareef Nagar village, the accused, a Muslim youth, was arrested the next day.
The woman’s father had filed a case against the same youth, a daily wager, back in October 2019. At that time, the youth was accused of kidnapping his daughter. However, according to the police report submitted to the judicial magistrate in that case, the woman denied knowing the accused and told the police that she had left her home on her own accord as she was upset with her parents.
The case was dismissed by the judicial magistrate as she was over 18 and, so, free to live wherever she pleased. Article 14 has a copy of the order (see below), which makes no mention of the guilt of the youth accused of kidnapping the girl.
Now, 14 months later, the woman’s father once again approached the police station on the day that the ordinance was passed. Although his daughter is now married within the community, the police has, on the basis of the father’s complaint, filed a new case against the same youth, this time adding Section 504 (intentional insult to disrupt peace) and Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), along with sections of the Unlawful Conversion Ordinance.
Article 14 has a copy of the FIR, which quotes the girl’s father: “The accused has been trying to sweet-talk my daughter into changing her religion. My family and I have repeatedly told him off but he is not mending his ways. He abuses us and threatens to kill us.”
The woman is already married and lives elsewhere and, so, it was not possible for his client to have bothered her, the accused’s lawyer, Mohammad Aarif said on the phone.
Aarif said he had spoken to the gram pradhan (village head) of Shareef Nagar and could infer that the police had put pressure on the woman’s family to file the case. “Grameen log hain, pressure mein aa jaate hain. Aap jaante hain ki police kaise daraati-dhamkaati hai.” (These are rural folks, they come under pressure. You know how the police threaten and intimidate.)
The FIR as well as the arrest of his client is illegal, Aarif said, and he would approach the Supreme Court for redressal.
The new FIR says the accused has been threatening the woman’s family. But her brother called it a closed chapter. He requested this reporter to drop the story as it could have an adverse effect on his sister’s marriage.
“Offences” Predate The Ordinance
In two cases examined by this reporter, the alleged offences took place before the ordinance came into effect.
Under Section 3 of the ordinance: “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion.”
Section 5 lays down the punishment for offences that includes a jail term of up to 10 years for anyone convicted of using marriage to force a spouse to change their faith. Interfaith couples must now give two months’ notice to a magistrate before getting married, instead of the usual 30 days required by the Special Marriage Act, and will be permitted to marry only if officials find no objections.
The ordinance also places the burden of proof of innocence on the accused.
On 4 December, according to media reports, a Muslim man and his Hindu wife who had converted after marriage, were confronted by members of the hardliner Hindutva group Bajrang Dal when they arrived at the registrar’s office to get their marriage registered. The couple had got married in July and the 22-year-old woman, now pregnant, told the police that she had got married of her own will.
After humiliating and heckling the woman, the Bajrang Dal mob took the couple to the police station where a case was registered by the woman’s parents, according to news reports. Police arrested her husband and his brother who had accompanied them to the registrar’s office.
Another FIR under the new ordinance was registered in Sitapur district’s Tambor police station. On 26 November, the father of a 19-year-old Hindu woman had filed a complaint of kidnapping. This was two days after his daughter had gone missing, and also two days before the ordinance had been passed.
On the morning after the ordinance came into effect, he revisited the police station to file a fresh complaint. Tambor police station’s Station House Officer (SHO) Amit Singh Bhadouriya said the police have added charges under Sections 3 and 5 of the new ordinance and two sections of the IPC: 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 368 (wrongful confinement).
The complaint names eight men as the accused--Jibrail (only first name available) and his family members. All the accused, except Jibrail have been arrested. At the time of writing, the woman is yet to be traced.
New Ordinance Cannot Have Retrospective Effect
Using the new ordinance for old cases is illegal, said Talha Rashadi, a lawyer based in Azamgarh, UP. The charges would not stand in a court of law, he said. “A law can be used from the day it has been passed, and not in older cases,” he said.
The Allahabad High Court should take suo moto cognisance of the issue because the ordinance is being implemented in a biased manner, said Rashadi. “The message that has gone in society is that the youth of a particular community are being targeted under this law,” he said.
The way the police has been revisiting old cases to book under the new law is disgraceful, said Madhu Garg, an assistant secretary with the All India Democratic Women’s Association, an advocacy. This is being done to create hatred in society, she added.
Apart from Bareilly and Sitapur districts, UP police have registered one case each in Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar and Mau districts under the new ordinance.
At Chiraiyakot police station, an FIR naming 14 people, including a Hindu man, has been registered, confirmed additional superintendent of police (ASP) of Mau district, Tribhuvan Nath Tripathi. Apart from Sections 3 and 5 of the ordinance, the FIR also mentions Sections 506 and 366 (kidnapping) of the IPC.
In Muzaffarnagar, two Muslim men have been booked for allegedly trying to force a married Hindu woman to convert. An FIR was registered against the two on December 10 at Mansoorpur police station, confirmed police inspector Kaushalpal Singh. In addition to sections of the ordinance, the men have been booked under Sections 504, 506 and 120-B of the IPC.
Fear Within Interfaith Marriages
On 2 December, Lucknow police had stopped the wedding of a Hindu woman and a Muslim man citing the new ordinance after receiving a tip off from the Hindutva group, Rashtriya Yuva Vahini.
Even though both the families had consented to the alliance, the police told them that the couple needed the district magistrate’s permission to get married under the new ordinance.
When contacted by Article 14, at least 10 interfaith couples who live in UP refused to comment on the ordinance wary that they themselves could land in trouble.
Finally, a 30-year-old Hindu man who has been married to a Muslim woman from Pakistan for three years said, on condition of anonymity: “I am afraid that the government will change policies that can affect our marriage. There are several people in the government who are in interfaith marriages, and they should speak on this issue.”
(The author is the Uttar Pradesh state editor with 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
Previously on Article 14: