At least ten people have been arrested in the last two weeks in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh under the law to check religion conversion for marriages.
The UP police made its first arrest on Dec. 2 in Bareilly district. Owais Ahmad, 21, was accused of “coercing, coaxing and alluring” a Hindu girl to convert, as per a police complaint filed by the girl’s parents. The mother alleged that Ahmad and her daughter were high school classmates, and that Ahmad was pressuring the girl to convert and marry him. The complaint claims that Ahmad continued to harass and threaten the girl, even though she married someone else in June this year.
“Police are making these arrests to earn brownie points from their bosses [state government] ,” Ahmed’s father, Mohammad Rafiq, told VICE World News. According to Rafiq, last year, the girl’s parents filed a police complaint alleging that Owais had kidnapped her. “But soon, she came back home and said she had left of her own will. They have been hounding my son even though he is innocent,” he said.
UP is the first Indian state to have outlawed religious conversion for marriage. Under the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Law, a couple belonging to different religions will have to inform the district administration two months prior to their marriage and can get married only when the administration gives them the go ahead. However, the ordinance has been criticised for targeting consensual interfaith relationships and playing into the right-wing conspiracy theory of “love jihad”—Muslim men trick Hindu women into love or marriage with the intention of converting their religion.
The UP state government, helmed by Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) introduced the law on Nov. 24 to curb “love jihad” cases.
In the last ten years, courts in various Indian states have ordered probes in “love jihad” cases and Hindu hardline groups have also claimed to have exposed many marriages done with the purpose of waging “jihad”. The majority of such cases have collapsed as police failed to prove that women were being forced to convert.
In recent months, representatives in five BJP ruled states have announced their intention to introduce laws against interfaith unions, which many see as part of the party’s Hindu rashtra (nation) agenda.
“The law is an attack on not only Muslims, but also the autonomy of women,” Kavita Krishnan, leader of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told VICE World News. Krishnan criticised the ordinance for being a tactic to harass interfaith couples. “If the law is meant to protect the woman from forced conversion, why are people other than the woman in question allowed to file a case?”
Last week, a Muslim man was arrested hours before he and his Hindu bride were about to formally register their marriage.
The police arrested the groom and his brother based on information shared by members of a vigilante group called Rashtriya Yuva Vahini.
“We were in the area and saw this Hindu girl was being made to do a nikah. We realised they didn’t have the magistrates permission to have this nikah, so we intervened,” KD Sharma, the president of Rashtriya Yuva Vahini told VICE World News.
The groom was arrested from his marriage ceremony even as the woman insisted that she was marrying him of her own free will. Police have announced that they arrested the groom based on a formal complaint filed by the girl’s parents.
VICE World News reached out to the girl’s mother who denied these allegations. “We just wanted to see our daughter happily married, and they have prevented that from happening,” she said, requesting to remain anonymous.
A sting operation conducted in 2015 by Cobrapost revealed that right wing outfits target interfaith couples since registering a marriage under the Special Marriage Act requires the couple to publicly display details of their marriage a month in advance. “Many couples would convert to avoid being harassed by these outfits, and the new law is a way to make sure these Hindu nationalist organisations can continue to keep tabs on these couples,” added Krishnan.
On Saturday, Dec. 5, the state police arrested seven people under the new law, for allegedly abducting a Hindu girl.