Hardoi, Shahjahanpur: They live 50 m apart and were in love for two years. They often met outside, went for rides, clicked pictures and then planned to get married.
On 30 November, the 18-year-old Hindu woman and 25-year-old Muslim man, went to a local court in Uttar Pradesh’s Hardoi to submit an application for marriage under the Special Marriage Act but the plan didn’t materialise. She was instead picked from the court by her father who “was informed” about her presence there.
Days later, on 10 December, the woman handed in a police complaint at the Shahabad police station, alleging that Mohammad Azad asked her to change her religion for marriage and that when she refused, he left her at the court.
She also alleged that since that day, Azad had been abusing her, raped her on two occasions and also threatened to make their private photos viral.
Azad was arrested on 11 December and booked under the so-called ‘love jihad’ law, and on charges of criminal intimidation and rape.
A senior police officer at the Shahabad police station, however, isn’t convinced by the case. “It is a fact that the two were in love. She knew that he was a Muslim and went to the court to marry him,” the officer told ThePrint. “Now that we received a complaint of forceful conversion, we registered the case and made the arrest. Whether it is justified or not, is for the court to decide. In such cases, the girl’s statement is sacrosanct.”
Police in the district, however, pointed to another aspect in the case — Hindu groups, which they say have become “extremely active” since the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, has come into effect.
At Hardoi, the woman lodged the police complaint with the help of the local Bajrang Dal unit, which admits to the presence of a “network” to spot such cases.
The Bajrang Dal’s zila co-ordinator Pawan Rastogi told ThePrint that he found out about the woman planning to marry Azad “through his network”.
“We have a strong network. After we found out that he was planning to marry her, we intervened. We first got the woman back and then helped her frame her complaint,” he said. “I then took her to the SP and got the FIR registered.”
He added that the Dal would intervene every time a Hindu woman leaves home with a Muslim man.
“When a woman puts her foot outside her house without her father’s permission, the Bajrang Dal comes in the picture,” he said. “In this case too, we stepped in because she was going with a Muslim man, and we will never allow it. Our job is to secure our religion and we will make sure that happens.”
“Hum inko (Muslims) jihad failane nai denge.(We will not let Muslims spread jihad),” he said. “Thanks to this law, we can operate freely. We hope that all 20 BJP-ruled states bring this law for the protection of Hindutva.”
Not the only instance
Just 62 kilometres from Hardoi is Mohammad Wali, an area in Shahjahanpur district, where a 42-year-old Hindu woman has filed a police complaint against Mohammad Saeed, 27, alleging that he raped her at gunpoint and then forced her to convert to Islam. She has alleged that he lied about his name being Sunil in 2017 and “lured her to be in a relationship”, which then went on for three years.
The neighbours of the woman claimed that Saeed frequented her house on various occasions and it was a case of a “relationship gone sour”.
Saeed’s family, which stays merely a kilometre away, said the 42-year-old addressed him as “bhai” and very well knew the family and his identity.
The police have booked Saeed under the ‘love jihad’ law and IPC sections on rioting, causing hurt, extortion, rape and criminal intimidation.
“He has been arrested and the investigation in the case is on. Our case depends on the woman’s complaint, which acts as a major evidence,” a senior police officer said.
Here too, however, the woman had lodged the police complaint at the Kotwali police station with the help of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), the parent body of the Bajrang Dal.
Zila mantri, VHP, Shahjahanpur, Rajesh Awasthy, told ThePrint he intervened to “protect Hindutva” and make sure that the woman “does not slip up”.
“I found out that the woman needs a way to end this relationship so I went to her place and asked them to write an official complaint,” he said. “At the police station, the SHO gave the responsibility for the investigation to a Muslim cop. The SHO told us that the case needed an inquiry before a formal FIR could be registered under the love jihad law.”
“I called my team and created a ruckus there. Why would a Muslim cop want a case against his own,” he added. “I told them that it is a clear case of love jihad and requires no inquiry. I called the SP from there and got a case registered.”
Awasthy also boasted about a “strong network” in court complexes, where couples often go to get their marriages registered, and claimed that he makes sure that none of the Hindu-Muslim couples succeed in getting married.
“The woman’s consent does not matter here. It is about saving Hindutva. In Katra, one woman went to marry a Muslim man with her consent,” he said. “The lawyer there gave me a tip-off and I forcefully picked her up from the court gate itself. Then we got her married off to a Hindu in the next two weeks. Now she is happy.”
“This is our job,” he added. “The job of these Muslims is to marry our daughters, sisters, bear children and then make them terrorists. This has to stop and it will. We are working aggressively towards this goal.”
Extorted money from me, didn’t know his real name: 42-year-old
The 42-year-old woman at Mohammad Wali told ThePrint that Saeed allegedly met her as Sunil in August 2017, at the pretext of seeing a room that was available for rent in her house, for a friend.
She said that he took her number and then they began talking. She claimed that once in 2017, Saeed came to her house and got physical with her at gunpoint, after which he allegedly made videos of her and began extorting money from her.
“He first took Rs 2 lakh, then asked for more. He took my jewellery, made me buy a bike and would often visit my house and demand money,” she said.
She said that she found out his real name was Saeed only last year, a claim that is disputed by Saeed’s family. “He earlier said that he would marry me but then started harassing and extorting money,” she said.
The woman said that she then told her brother who spoke to the local VHP unit to find “a solution”.
According to her police complaint, on 10 December, Saeed and his family, including his mother, sister, a qazi and two witnesses allegedly came to her house with a nikanamma and forced her to sign it. She alleged that Saeed then took her to a room and again raped her when she refused to sign the papers.
Saeed’s mother Munan, however, disputes the claim. “Why would we go to her house with a qazi?” she asked. “Ask any neighbour if that is true. It is a small town, no one can ever dare to do that. Why did she not call the police right away then? Why did she wait for so long?”
“Just because this new law has come into force, they take old matters and arrest our sons,” she said.
Was under his grip due to tabeez he made me wear: Hardoi teen
At Hardoi, the 18-year-old is reluctant to talk. She utters two words and then looks at her father.
After much persuasion, she says, “I went with him because I was not thinking straight. That is because of the tabeez (a religious locket) he made me wear. He told me he loves me and will marry me so I went with him to the court. Whatever he said, I did. He was controlling me with that tabeez.”
She became “friends” with Azad two years ago. Some in their village, including the couple’s common friends, knew they were dating. The couple even met in Delhi on many occasions as Azad worked as an electrician in the national capital and so did the woman’s father. He earned Rs 75,000 annually.
Their friends told ThePrint that the two had been planning to get married for some time, but were scared. “They had been together for long. They wanted to get married and that is why the woman had even gathered her documents required for application,” a common friend, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint. “There was no talk of any conversion to Islam before this, no such allegation.”
The woman, however, claimed that it was because of the “tabeez” that she agreed to marry him.
On November 30, she claimed, Azad called her on her mobile, which he had bought for her, and asked her to come to the court with all the documents. She claimed that she left from her home and then they went to a lawyer’s office.
“He made me sign some documents. Then he told me that I will have to convert. When I asked why, he did not say much and left,” she said. “Then I opened the tabeez and came back to my senses and then called my father asking him to come and pick me up.”
“After a few days, we got a complaint registered,” she added.
Azad’s brother, Jan Mohammad, however, said that the couple returned because they did not get two witnesses to sign for them. “Azad did not leave her at the court. He could not gather witnesses for the marriage and hence they decided to return later,” Mohammad said. “They were also told that before this marriage gets finalised, there will be a one month notice that will be put outside the court to see if everyone is ok with this.”
“Moreover, some people saw them at the court and they decided to do it another day. We do not know what the girl’s father and that man from VHP told her that she has now changed her statement entirely,” he said.
Azad’s mother, Asma, says she only found out about her son’s intention to marry the 18-year-old on 30 November, when he returned home. She regrets not being stern enough with him.
“That day there was chaos in the village. We found out that he had gone to the court to get married to that Hindu girl and the entire village was talking about it,” she said. “We thrashed him and warned him that he would be in trouble. Little did we know that he would be arrested just days after.”
That day Asma also found some pictures of Azad with the 18-year-old, that he had hid in his drawer. “We knew that something was on, but did not know that it had reached this stage when they decided to get married,” she said, holding the couple’s photos in her hand. “We had also sent a message to the girl’s parents once asking them to make her understand that she should not meet my son. But clearly they kept meeting.”
“It is wrong to say that my son forced her to convert. They were in love, she knew what she was doing,” Asma added. “Now my son, who was the sole earning member is behind bars. Probably I should have kept him locked in the house.”