Uttar Pradesh: In over a month since the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance was notified, 86 people have been booked in 16 cases involving allegations of conversion for love or marriage among Hindus and Muslims. In all, 54 people have been arrested — including friends and family members of the main accused. The key accused in all the cases are Muslims.
On the ground, the law seems to have deepened communal fault lines, instilled fear among Muslims, and made it tougher for interfaith couples to exercise their choice.
While fringe Hindu Right-wing groups seem to be thriving off this fear, saying it is “important” for “this community”, the government maintains that the law is religion-neutral.
The UP government describes the ordinance as a “good legislation” that is necessary to “check cases of deceitful, fraudulent and forceful conversions”.
“The law does not espouse any motive to single out any religion or faith. Such legislation was necessary to prevent only those marriages that are done with the sole purpose of conversion. The law, in fact, safeguards human rights by preventing fake, fraudulent or deceitful premises of marriage,” a senior UP government functionary said.
But in many of the cases filed under the law, the details don’t seem to add up.
ThePrint travelled across Sitapur, Kannauj, Kanpur, Hardoi, Bijnor, Moradabad, Shahjahanpur and Bareilly to track eight of the 16 cases, visiting families of both the accused and the “victims”, sifting through FIRs and case diaries, and speaking to police officers privy to the investigations.
What came out were several discrepancies in some of the cases made out by police and the facts narrated by the women involved and their families. Here is what we found.
‘Pressured to give statements, no forceful conversion’
Seven of the eight FIRs that ThePrint examined mentioned that the woman was “cajoled” by the Muslim man with an intention to marry her and change her religion.
However, in four of these seven cases, the women portrayed as victims of a forceful conversion bid denied the claim outright and told ThePrint that there was no talk of forced conversion.
While one of the four claimed she was pressured to give a statement against her Muslim partner by her parents, another said her mother’s complaint to police was the result of pressure from a fringe Hindu Right-wing group active in their area.
Of the seven cases, there are two where the women involved have alleged forced conversion. In the seventh case, the woman had eloped with her Muslim partner, and thus could not be reached for comment.
In this incident, police initially registered an abduction case when it was discovered that the woman had eloped. Sections under the anti-conversion law were invoked after it was discovered that her partner was a Muslim neighbour.
In all the eight cases, the complainants, mostly fathers of the women, have claimed that the accused Muslim men hid their identity and “fooled” their daughters.
But this claim has also come into question. Only one woman has claimed that a Muslim man lied to her about his identity, while a teenager involved in another case claimed the man — a former classmate — initially lied about his identity but came clean when she told him she didn’t like Muslims.
Among the others, one said she hid her boyfriend’s identity so her parents would allow their marriage, while another stated that she willingly married her Muslim partner in Uttarakhand in July, four months before the law was notified. This case also appears dubious because the law doesn’t apply retrospectively.
In the eight cases analysed, seven involved Hindu-Muslim couples who were in a relationship — romantic or friendly — that their families did not approve of. In the eighth case, the teenager described the accused as a friend that “she liked very much” until she came to know his religion.
In seven of these cases, the Muslim men accused have been jailed. The one who eloped is on the run. In the elopement case, police have declared the man an absconder and arrested 13 members of his family — including his widowed mother — for “conspiracy”. Six police and two SWAT teams have been put on duty to track down the couple, even though both the man and woman are adults and the woman’s family told ThePrint that they know she eloped willingly.
The reaction to the laws has been different, depending largely on a family’s religion. While one Hindu woman’s family claimed they are grateful to the anti-conversion law and police, saying they “helped them separate the couple for the woman’s good”, a Muslim household said they had now warned their sons against going out.
Ismail, the pradhan of all-Muslim Kirarkhedi, claimed all the men in the village “have been warned” since one of the residents was arrested in a controversial case under the law.
“It is better that they are cautious. These are very poor families. If they get caught in these love matters and get jailed, they will not even have money to pay for their bail,” the pradhan added. “This law has certainly given a message that all Muslim men should stay away from Hindu women and that is what is happening now.”
This fear, members of local Hindu Right-wing groups say, is “necessary”.
“This fear is very important among this community. Even if an innocent man is getting arrested, it does not matter. At least it will instill fear in the others and keep them away from our daughters and sisters,” Jitendra Bains, a Bijnor-based leader of the fringe group Hindu Jagran Manch, said.
According to Bains, the achievement of this law is that a “Muslim will think a thousand times before befriending a Hindu”. “That was our aim and we have achieved it,” he said.
The law is being ‘misread’
Despite examples of the law being misused in several parts of Uttar Pradesh to separate adult couples, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said the intention of the law is not to target a specific community but to stop forceful conversions.
“This law is being misread by many. It is a law that is gender- and religion-neutral. There are many instances in Meerut where women have been deceitfully converted and then brutally murdered, which cannot be ignored,” he added. “This has become a rampant problem that is now being dealt with by this law.”
“The job of police is to register a case if a complaint comes to them, not to initiate one. If any complaints of police pressure come to us, they will be dealt with sternly,” he said.
In a state with a population of 24 crore, he added, only 16 cases have been registered so far. “Just 16 cases in such a big state is not a lot,” he said.
Kumar noted that the ordinance is “for all religions, does not single out any particular religion, and is not against interfaith marriages”.
Apart from the 16 aforementioned cases involving Hindus and Muslims, one other case had been filed under the law as of 31 December. Filed in Greater Noida, the case led to the arrest of four people, including a South Korean national, for allegedly influencing some local residents to convert to Christianity.