Bareilly: It was around 10.40 pm on 28 November, barely hours after Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel had signed off on the state’s controversial anti-conversion or ‘love jihad’ ordinance, that a married woman’s father arrived at a police station in Bareilly.
Tikaram, a resident of Sharifnagar in Bareilly, sought to file a complaint against the family’s 21-year-old neighbour Uwais Ahmed for allegedly trying to forcibly convert his daughter — married to someone else — to Islam. Based on Tikaram’s complaint, Ahmed was booked. He was arrested four days later, this Wednesday.
Ahmed is the first person to have been booked under the state’s Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 or the ‘Vidhi Virudh Dharma Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadhesh 2020’.
But he wouldn’t have been had a young mother from Bareilly’s Izzatnagar had had her way. This woman had approached police on 27 November with a complaint against a man named Tahir Hussain (21), whom she identified as her husband.
According to the woman, Hussain had told her, in as many words, that he only married her to convert her to Islam.
In her complaint to police, she said she wanted him booked under the new ordinance. Hussain was subsequently arrested but police couldn’t invoke the ordinance as the law was only notified a day after she filed her complaint.
The anti-conversion ordinance doesn’t name any religion but has been brought by the Yogi Adityanath government with the stated objective of curbing so called ‘love jihad’, which Hindutva hardliners describe as a “conspiracy” to convert gullible Hindu women to Islam by misleading them with promises of love.
Controversial in nature, the law appears to have stoked some manner of a frenzy in Bareilly, a district in western Uttar Pradesh.
Not only does Bareilly account for the first arrest under the ordinance, police in the district say they have been receiving multiple complaints from people who want the law invoked retrospectively, for alleged cases dating years back.
Even as some families cheer the law, at least two others have been left bereft by the ordinance itself and the communally-charged suspicions it has triggered within a week of its notification.
With their young sons in jail under charges they allege are trumped up, these families claim they don’t know how to emerge from this crisis. The burden of proving their sons’ innocence, after all, is their responsibility under the ordinance.
The first case
According to the FIR registered on the basis of Tikaram’s complaint, his daughter had known Uwais Ahmed since the time they were school students. However, he is quoted as saying, Ahmed started a relationship with his daughter and had recently begun pressuring her to convert to Islam. Among other things, Tikaram has also alleged a threat to his family.
“He kept pressuring my daughter to change her religion, and when my family and I refused, he started abusing us and threatened to kill us,” he is quoted as saying in the FIR, which was accessed by ThePrint.
The FIR invokes sections 3 and 5 of the anti-conversion law — while Section 3 states that no person shall convert or try to convert any person from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, fraudulent means or by marriage, Section 5 says a person found guilty under Section 3 will be punished with imprisonment of 1-5 years and a fine of up to Rs 15,000. Sections 504 and 506 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace, and criminal intimidation, respectively) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) have been invoked as well.
While a case was registered the same day, Ahmed was only arrested on 2 December as he had allegedly been on the run. Ahmed was produced before a magistrate in the Baheri area of Bareilly and remanded in 14 days judicial custody.
ThePrint tried to get in touch with Tikaram for a comment, but couldn’t reach him at his home address or via calls and texts to his mobile phone number.
Tikaram’s home at Sharifnagar is barely 100 metres from the house where Ahmed, a daily-wager, lives with his parents Mohammad Rafiq and Munni.
Speaking to ThePrint, Rafiq and Munni said their son is innocent and is being framed. “He had not spoken to her (the woman) for almost a year and then she got married in June and moved away,” said Rafiq.
Ahmed, Rafiq added, is the sole breadwinner of the family. “How will we survive? He was the only earning member of the family. My other two sons are in Delhi, they don’t even know about this case,” he said.
A wailing Munni added, “What will happen to my son now? How will I survive?”
A resident of the locality, Rajveer, defended Ahmed too. “The boy is innocent, he did not threaten or try to convert anyone,” he said.
When Ahmed was presented before the judicial magistrate at Bareilly’s Baheri court, there was much buzz among passersby and lawyers, many of whom crammed inside the courtroom to steal a glance at the “first accused under the new law”.
Ahmed has pleaded innocence. While on his way to custody, he told ThePrint that he is being framed. “The girl is already married and I have no link with her. I knew her from before because she was in the same village. This is a false case, I am innocent,” he said.
However, a senior police officer, requesting anonymity, rejected the claim that the two had no link, saying they had attempted to elope to Mumbai via Delhi last October. The “plan was foiled”, he said, after the woman’s father filed a complaint.
The woman, the officer added, was stopped at Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh by police, while Ahmed was still in Bareilly.
When confronted, the officer said, Ahmed told police he had planned to elope with the complainant’s daughter.
A case was subsequently registered under sections 363 and 366 of the IPC (kidnapping and kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her marriage), but the matter was settled between the two families after the woman contradicted her father’s complaint — that Ahmed had lured her — and said she left her house because she was angry with her parents, the senior police officer added.
ThePrint has also accessed the FIR filed in the case at the time, and the statement she made to police about the reason she ran away.
Daya Shankar, the Station House Officer at Deorania, the jurisdiction overseeing Sharifnagar, said they will file the charge sheet in the case in approximately another 10 days “as the new law has not been registered into the computer system”.
Woman wants case filed retrospectively
In Izzatnagar, a woman believed to be around 28-30 years old claims to have had a harrowing experience since she married Tahir Hussain, 21, at a temple in October last year.
According to her FIR, which has been accessed by ThePrint, the woman had been living with Hussain in the Partapur area. She has alleged that Hussain refused to register their marriage and told her upfront that he had only married her to convert her.
“When I got pregnant, I told Tahir (Hussain) that we should get our marriage registered now that we are going to have a child,” she said, adding that she wanted to secure her child’s and her own future.
On 20 November, she said, when she told Hussain’s family that she wanted to get the marriage registered, his mother and brother “assaulted me and kicked me on the stomach”, allegedly causing her to miscarry.
When she lost her child, Hussain allegedly told her that “you no longer have any proof that you were pregnant”.
“I do not want to marry you and my religion makes me believe in ‘love jihad’,” the FIR then quotes him as having said. The woman has accused him of rape, committing ‘love jihad’, and threatening to kill her.
Hussain was arrested on 28 November and is currently lodged in the Bareilly jail.
ThePrint tried to reach the complainant and her lawyer, but both of them refused to meet in person or speak on the phone despite numerous calls and text messages.
The Station House Officer of Izzatnagar, Sudess Sirohi, said the FIR invoked sections 376, 313, 323 and 506 of the IPC (rape, causing miscarriage, causing hurt & criminal intimidation, respectively). The case was not registered under the new law because the FIR was filed on 27 November, when it was yet to be notified.
The complainant wanted Hussain booked under the new law, he added.
“Although the contents match the ordinance, we cannot book the accused under this law,” he added. “If we do that, then we will have cases pending from 2002 and even before that to be tried under this new law.”
Superintendent of Police (SP) Sansar Singh said “the complainant kept asking for her case to be registered under the new law, but then we had to explain that if no new incident has occurred since she filed the FIR on (27 November) then a case cannot be registered under the new ordinance”.
He added that they have “gotten quite a few requests for retrospective booking of cases/complaints under the new anti-conversion law”. “However, we will never entertain such requests. It is not possible,” he said.
Like Ahmed, Hussain, a daily-wager who earns Rs 150/day, is the sole breadwinner for his family, which includes his mother Kaneez Banu, two brothers aged 8 and 14 years, and two sisters aged 14 and 17. His father passed away seven months ago after suffering a heart attack.
Speaking to ThePrint, Hussain’s employer and friend Musharraf Raza Khan acknowledged that he had started chatting with the complainant on social media under an assumed name but denied the two got married or lived together.
“He started chatting with her (the complainant) on Facebook under the name Kunal, but, aside from that, they had no contact, besides the fact that they stay in the same locality. He is being framed,” said Khan.
Tahir’s family has lived in Partapur for the past 20 years, but their house is currently locked.
Asked why, Kaneez said the complainant had threatened them that if Tahir did not marry her, she would get both her “daughters picked up”. “She also said she would kick us out of the house,” she added.
“How can I live in this house when she keeps threatening us? She also said ‘the government is ours (sarkar hamari hai)’… I didn’t even know that Tahir and Gita were speaking to each other.”
With her son arrested, Kaneez said she didn’t know how the family will survive. “For now, people in the neighbourhood have been helping us out with food and other provisions,” she added, before breaking down into tears. “Please help us, I have no one else but him.”
Ram Sevak, a resident of Partapur who lives in the house adjacent to Hussain’s, appeared suspicious about the allegations against him. “I know the boy, he is very innocent and has only been working since his father passed away,” he said.
Talking about the complainant, SHO Sirohi said she had been married 5-6 years back and had a child from that marriage aged 9-10 years. At present, he added, there is no proof that the complainant had a miscarriage.
Sirohi said she was subject to a medical exam on 28 November, but the report is awaited.
Bareilly is a Hindu-majority district, where 63.64 per cent of the total population (over 44 lakh people) is Hindu and 34.54 per cent are Muslim, according to the official census date of 2011 and population data of 2020.
However, the part of Bareilly where the first case was registered — Deorania — has more Muslims than Hindus, with a ratio of 60:40, said Station House Officer Daya Shankar.
Bareilly is represented in the assembly by the BJP’s Dr Arun Kumar.
Local residents say there has always been an undercurrent of communal tensions in Bareilly despite the fact that it is known as “saugraha ka sheher” or “peaceful city”.
“Before 2014, when the Modi government came to power, for almost three years, at least once a year, a curfew would be imposed in Bareilly. However, since 2014, no curfew has been imposed,” said writer Sudhir Vidyarthi, who has written books on freedom fighters Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad and has been living in Bareilly since 2003.
Bareilly, he added, has a substantial Muslim population and “the fatwa against Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen was issued here too”.
Deputy Inspector General of Bareily Zone Rajesh Pandey said the local Muslim population had two sects — Deobandi Muslims and Bareilvi Muslims — of which he described the former as being more orthodox.
“There is no segregation between Hindus and Muslims in Bareilly and they all live together. However, it is a communally sensitive area,” he added.
He said there have been riots in the city, recounting one in 2012 and another in 2015-16.
Speaking to ThePrint, religious leaders of both Hinduism and Islam said they saw the new ordinance as a necessary intervention, even though they had very different reasons for saying so.
Kamal Nayan Das, mahant of the Tulsi Math in Bareilly, hailed the new law but said the “punishment laid out is less”.
“Maximum punishment should be hanging (phansi),” said Das. “People from different faiths should not get married. This new law will not be misused at all,” he added.
‘Love jihad’, Das said, is “not love for girls, but love for one’s own religion and to spoil Hindu girls”.
According to him, ‘love jihad’ first emerged in Mumbai in the film world, when “people started entering inter-faith marriages”.
Maulana Shahabuddin Rizvi, the general secretary of the All India Tanzeem Ulama-e-Islam, an organisation of Bareilvi-Sunni Muslims, Bareilly Sharif, welcomed the new ordinance and said it had some positive aspects. “The new law will create fear in the minds of young Muslim boys to not engage in any relationship or get married to non-Muslim women as it is haram (blasphemous),” he said.
He, however, added that the law is political in nature because “whoever was involved in drafting the law was serving their political agenda and did not care about society”.
“Their main aim was to create tension and divide in Hindu-Muslim relations and brotherhood,” he added, saying the law had potential to be misused. There is no such thing as ‘love jihad’, he added.
Burden of proof
The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 sets out a jail term of 1-10 years and a fine of Rs 15,000 to Rs 50,000 under different categories.
One of its more controversial provisions is that the burden of proof is on the person accused of conducting forced conversions, although, under Indian law, the burden of proof in criminal cases is generally on the prosecution side.
This means, under the UP ordinance, an accused person will have to prove that they were not responsible for religious conversion through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or marriage.
Advocate Mohammad Arif, who is representing Ahmed, said there is no case made out against his client. According to him, Ahmed is just a pawn for the authorities in Bareilly to curry favour with the state government.
“This is being done to please the BJP government and CM Yogi Adityanath, so that they know the first case under the new ordinance was registered in Bareilly,” he said.
Arif added that forcible religious conversion is wrong but said the IPC was sufficient to prosecute such crimes and a separate law was not required.
However, SP Sansar Singh said the law will prevent forced conversions by marriage “which is creating a lot of communal tension in the area”.
“Under the new law, all this will come to a stop,” he said. “Getting married is one thing but why do you need to change your religion? And mostly it was the girl who would change her religion. So all of that will change now.”
Asked about its potential for misuse, he said it was a risk with every law.
The role of police with respect to this law is vital for two reasons, he added. “First, to make people aware of the new law, and second to ensure that it is implemented properly,” he said.