In at least two cases they have applied it retrospectively.
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On December 17, the Uttar Pradesh police arrested six family members of Mohammad Javed after he was named in a missing persons FIR in Etah. A week later, eight distant relatives of his were arrested as well. They stand accused of abducting a Hindu girl, forcibly converting her to Islam, and coercing her into an interfaith marriage.
This is one of at least two cases where the police have made arrests under the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 even though the alleged offences took place before the “love jihad” law, as the ordinance is infamously known, came into force. In all, the Uttar Pradesh police have filed at least 13 cases under the new law so far.
The ordinance has been criticised as an unconstitutional and draconian piece of legislation aimed at employing the bogey of “love jihad” to target interfaith marriages, specifically where the man is Muslim. “Love jihad” is a Hindutva conspiracy theory that Muslim men seduce Hindu women with the express purpose of converting them to Islam.
The arbitrariness with which the Uttar Pradesh police have used the law has only deepened these fears. Javed’s case is illustrative.
His nightmare began on November 25 when Praveen Kumar Pachauri, a resident of Chungi Gate in Etah’s Jalesar tehsil, filed an FIR claiming his daughter, Kumari Ayushi, 21, had gone missing from an Etah market on November 17.
On December 17, Praveen lodged another FIR after he received a letter from Javed’s lawyer informing him that the eloped couple had married. According to a local journalist who requested not to be named for fear of the police, the letter was sent to Ayushi’s family after she and Javed had registered their marriage in a Delhi court. In this FIR, Praveen alleged that his daughter had been converted under “psychological pressure” by Javed, his sister Roshan Jahan, his brothers Nazir and Sajid, Nazir’s wife Nishanaz and Sajid’s wife Rizwana, without the district magistrate’s permission as mandated by the new law.
The FIR invoked the “love jihad” law and the police arrested 14 of Javed’s relatives from Chatta area in Jalesar. Javed was in Delhi with his wife so he escaped arrest.
The police haven’t explained what evidence they have against Javed’s family or on what basis they arrested his distant relatives who aren’t named in the FIR. According to sources in the police, they are going after his relatives to compel Javed to return home with his newly wed wife.
Terrifyingly, given that the ordinance was promulgated on November 27, over a week before Ayushi’s purported conversion and two days before the original FIR was registered, it was applied retrospectively in Javed’s case. Which is illegal, argued AQ Zaidi, a lawyer at the Allahabad High Court.
“If the law is not in force, how can someone be prosecuted under it. It is not the date of the complaint but the date of the incident that will determine the applicability of a particular law, enactment, statute,” Zaidi said. For this same reason, he added, Ayushi wasn’t required to inform the district magistrate of her purported conversion.
Section 8 of ordinance lays down that a person who desires to change their religion “shall give a declaration in the form prescribed at least sixty days in advance” to the district magistrate or additional district magistrate, that they wish to convert of with their “free consent and without any force, coercion, undue influence or allurement”.
Sunil Kumar Singh, Etah’s police superintendent, wasn’t available to speak about the matter. His supervisor, the deputy inspector general, Aligarh, did not respond to a request for comment either.
There is a similar case in Sitapur. On November 25, the Tambor police filed an FIR against “unknown persons” for kidnapping and “inducing a woman for marriage” after one Sarvesh Shukla complained that his daughter, Neetu Shukla, 19, had gone missing from their home in Makhu Behad. Presumably, she had eloped with a Muslim neighbour named Jibrail.
Subsequently, on November 27, Sarvesh wrote to Sitapur’s police chief accusing Jubraeel and six members of his family of forcibly converting his daughter to Islam. The Tambor police quickly amended their FIR to apply the “love jihad” law even though the FIR notes that the alleged offence took place on November 24, three days before the ordinance came into force.
Still, the police arrested seven members of Jubraeel’s family and, later, five of their relatives, as well as a Hindu driver named Saroj Shukla. They are now searching for the couple.
As in the Etah case, the purpose of arbitrarily arresting the Muslim boy’s relatives, even those not named in the FIR, appears to be to compel the couple to return home.
Newslaundry asked Rajiv Dixit, Sitapur’s superintendent of police, about the retrospective application of the law but didn’t get a response. This report will be updated if a response is received.
At the district magistrate’s office, his assistant said they would respond if we left a message. They haven’t so far.
In Lucknow, the police adopted the opposite approach. On December 10, Sarita Rai, 35, complained to the police that she had started a relationship seven months earlier with a man who called himself Rohit. She was separated from her husband with whom she had four children. A few months into the relationship, Sarita said in her complaint, she got pregnant and asked Rohit to marry her, only to realise he wasn’t a Hindu named Rohit but a Muslim named Anas.
“The accused tried to take advantage of the fact that the woman is pregnant and hence she was made to undergo religious conversion, followed by nikah on November 15,” says the FIR filed by the Hussainganj police on the basis of her complaint.
Anas, identified by only his first name in the FIR, later took her to meet his family who “threatened her with dire consequences” if she didn’t end their relationship”, Sarita alleged, adding that his father and sisters also thrashed her.
The FIR names Anas, his parents and two sisters. They have been booked under the penal code provisions punishing rape, voluntarily causing hurt, and criminal intimidation, as well as under the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act because Sarita is Dalit.
Though Sarita was allegedly coerced into conversion on November 15, over a week before the law came into effect, the FIR was filed afterwards. But unlike in Sitapur and Etah, the police didn’t apply the “love jihad” law.
A police official in Hussainganj who would only speak anonymously said they did not invoke the new law because the alleged offence had occurred when it was not yet in force.
Quite correctly, in Zaidi’s view. “If the complainant says pressure for conversion came on November 15 and that was the only time she was coerced then there’s no need to invoke the new law,” he explained. “But if she was pressured or threatened for conversion after November 28, then this FIR will not stand legal scrutiny.”
After the FIR was filed, Sarita was evicted from her rented flat in Pajava area. “We weren’t comfortable with the police investigation,” her former landlady said. “She never told us about a Muslim partner. She would call him Rohit.”
Sarita refused to speak with Newslaundry. Anas was arrested on December 10 and is currently in jail, and his family have fled the house they owned in Saeed Nagar.
Similarly, the Indian Express reported last month how the Bareilly police did not even entertain a Muslim man’s complaint that his daughter had been abducted and forcibly married to a Hindu after conversion, let alone invoke the new ordinance. They reasoned that the woman had testified that she got married in September before the law came into force. But in Moradabad, the report pointed out, the police arrested a Muslim man “despite his wife saying they got married in July. The man’s brother was also arrested and jailed”.
It was referring to Mohammad Rashid, who became the first man to be arrested under the “love jihad” law after his marriage to Muskan, formerly Pinki, was violently turned into a public spectacle by Hindutva vigilantes. Muskan was held as well and then sent to a women’s shelter where she suffered a harrowing miscarriage, as Newslaundry reported last month.
“In Bareilly, police said they dropped the woman back at her husband’s home,” the Express noted to illustrate how the law was being arbitrarily employed. “In Moradabad, police said the woman has been lodged in a state protection home.”
Faridul Hasan is a freelance journalist in Lucknow.
This is the fifth story in a series on the human cost of the Hindutva ecosystem’s ‘love jihad’ campaign. Read the other stories here.
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