Sanskriti Shukla converted to Islam before she married Javed Khan last year in Haryana’s Faridabad. They had been in a relationship for seven years, but they are now in hiding after threats from Hindutva vigilantes, including the Bajrang Dal and the Bittu Bajrangi-led Gau Raksha Bajrang Force.
These vigilantes call their marriage “love jihad”, a view shared by Sanskriti’s father DK Shukla, who speaks highly of them. He filed a case of forced conversion – under Haryana’s new anti-conversion law – against Javed two months after the marriage in December last year.
To live a normal married life, Sanskriti tried to contact her father “to tell him that I am very happy after marrying Javed and please try to accept our relationship”. But, she says, he keeps repeating that “he will also join Bajrang Dal and will find evidence against love jihad”.
It’s not just Sanskriti and Javed. Consenting interfaith couples are finding it increasingly difficult to get married or live a normal married life in Haryana, either due to threats from vigilantes or misuse of the law. Haryana last year became the 11th state to enact a law on “love jihad” – a Hindutva conspiracy theory that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriage as part of an organised campaign to make India an Islamic state.
the Haryana Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act in the assembly two months ago, BJP leader and chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar pointed to the filing of 127 cases of forced conversion in six districts over four years. The complaints filed before the “love jihad” law were lodged under other penal provisions or as alleged crimes against women.
However, police officers who spoke to Newslaundry suggest there has been a rise in motivated complaints after the passage of the new law.
SGM Nagar police station inspector Sandeep Kumar, who has been investigating the case against Javed, has found no truth to Shukla’s claims. “Sanskriti is a 22-year-old working woman. Nobody has coaxed her. And the Constitution has given you rights to marry whoever you want. It is just that when a Hindu girl marries a Muslim boy then people try to register their marriage under love-jihad…She went to the bank, they eloped and got married. And they were in police protection for three days.”
However, DK Shukla said, “(Muslims) are committing so many crimes. Everyday, I watch it on Hindu-Muslim debates on TV channels…We were never in touch with Bittu Bajrangi or any of the Bajrang Dal members but once our case got registered, he (Bittu) told us about love jihad and how Muslim men lure Hindu women, marry them and then harass them. He is a sole warrior. He is spreading awareness.”
According to the FIR, Javed’s family had approached Sanskriti’s parents one year ago to get the couple married, but the latter had refused saying it could not happen as Javed is a Muslim.
Bittu, who claims to have been part of the RSS for over three decades, said, “How can I believe that Sanskriti and Javed were in a relationship for seven years?…I believe that in this case the police have been bribed. That is why they are ruining the matter.”
Misuse of the law?
In several other criminal cases, there seems to be a random application of the “love jihad” law when the accused is a Muslim man.
Consider the example of Twinkle, who went against her family’s wishes to marry Shahrukh three years ago. Her body was found hanging from a fan at the couple’s residence in Haryana’s Faridabad last month, and Shahrukh now stands accused of murder and forcefully trying to convert his wife to Islam.
However, investigating officer and inspector Jai Bir Singh said it could also be death due to suicide. “They had a love marriage but recently they started having a lot of arguments. It is the Bajrang Dal people who are instigating Twinkle’s family a lot because she is a Hindu.”
However, Shahrukh has not been arrested for abetment of suicide but conversion – a prima facie case of a suspect being arrested under incorrect charges only due to pressure from Hindutva vigilantes.
The FIR was filed by Twinkle’s family, who “never spoke to her after the marriage”. They credit Hindutva vigilantes, more specifically the Gau Raksha Bajrang Force founder Bittu Bajrangi, for getting the case filed “under new laws”. “If Bittu would not have been with us, we might not have even got the FIR filed,” said her brother Sumit.
Bittu has also met Haryana home minister Anil Vij to secure justice in the case, according to Sumit and the Gau Raksha Bajrang Force founder.
Let’s consider a similar case.
Rashmi* and Amir met through Facebook and settled in Faridabad after their marriage two years ago. But Amir is now in jail, after Rashmi filed a case against him under the anti-conversion law at Adarsh Nagar police station in Faridabad in November last year.
“At the time of marriage, the girl did not know about her husband’s religion. He had an Aadhar card and a Facebook Id with a Hindu name. But after she got pregnant, she accidentally learned about his religion. Then they had a fight and left her,” stated the FIR on the basis of Rashmi’s complaint.
However, inspector Kuldeep Singh, who has been investigating the case, has found no basis to these claims. He said that Rashmi knew of Amir’s identity well in advance and got him to make a Facebook account and Aadhaar card with a Hindu name to seek her parents approval. “After the marriage, Rashmi had converted. They had a fight over some other issue and it escalated to this.”
Rashmi filed an FIR, accompanied by Bajrang Dal members, said Singh. “Bajrang Dal people were saying that is a case of love-jihad,” said the officer, adding that Amir’s parents and two sisters have also been booked in the case even though the family had disowned him after the marriage and nobody tried to secure his bail.
Newslaundry could not reach Rashmi for comment.
Rise in complaints
Inspector Sandeep Kumar of SGM Nagar police station said there has only been a rise in such cases against interfaith marriages after the law was enacted. On the role of vigilante groups in many of such complaints, he said they are not speaking up for “80 percent” of the victims of crimes against women, in cases involving marriages within the same community.
He might have a point.
According to the NCRB’s annual report in 2021, Haryana is amongst the worst states in the country for women. In 2021, it recorded around 45 cases of violence against women in a day. And as per a National Family Health Survey Report in 2022, more than 18 percent of married women between the age of 18 and 49 years experienced spousal violence between 2019-21.
However, vigilantes continue to use “love jihad” to "rescue Hindu women", threaten interfaith couples and take the law into their hands in the state.
Asked for comment by Newslaundry, Bajrang Dal’s Faridabad chief Pankaj said, “We stand by Bittu Bajrangi’s Gau Raksha Bajrang Force because they are Hindus and they are also fighting for the Hindus. We have different methods to achieve goals but our destination is the same.
“In the last four months not even a single Hindu woman has married a Muslim man. It is because of our ground level campaigns. We have visited each and every house to spread awareness…We have also opted for other methods to tackle this.”
Asked about Amir’s arrest, Pankaj told us to contact the local Bajrang Dal functionary, who did not respond to our phone calls. This report will be updated if a response is received.
Bittu, meanwhile, recalls his organisation’s efforts with pride. In one of the incidents, he claims to have found the whereabouts of a couple within two hours after he came to know that a Hindu woman from Ghaziabad had married and eloped with a Muslim boy from Faridabad. “I circulated the girl’s photo on social media, after which her parents contacted me the same night,” he says, adding that he took them “into confidence”. “Next morning, we barged into the couple’s house, thrashed the Muslim man with lathis, and lifted the girl on our shoulders to present her before the police…we taught her what she has to tell the police but she lied to them that her parents and I have brought her to the police station at gunpoint. But the police again sent her with the Muslim. After a few days, we learnt that she started offering namaz,” he says.
Bittu claims the girl returned to her family after they kidnapped the man and threatened his family.
Asked about police action over taking the law into their hands, the Gau Raksha Bajrang Force founder claims senior police officers support him. His social media handles indicate that he has been openly calling for violence against Muslims, giving hate speeches, and posting pictures with top leaders of the BJP.
Newslaundry contacted the PRO of the Haryana Police for comment on the alleged support to vigilantes and the data on such cases in the state. However, we received no response despite multiple attempts to seek comment through phone calls and WhatsApp messages. This report will be updated if a response is received.
For Bittu, and many others part of his organisation, the fight continues. “I will be afraid of anybody if I do anything wrong,” he says.
*Name changed to protect identity