In November, Uttar Pradesh became the first state to pass a law against “forced” or “fraudulent” religious conversions.
But it might not be the last as at least four other states – Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Assam – have said that they are planning to bring in laws against “love jihad”. All five states are governed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who have been accused of normalising anti-Muslim sentiment.
As this new law against “love jihad” provides for a jail term up to 10 years, with all alleged offences cognizable and non-bailable. The ordinance says no person shall attempt to convert another by misrepresentation, force, allurement, and any fraudulent means or by marriage. If a person converts back to the religion they most recently belonged to, that is not to be considered as conversion under the ordinance. Any aggrieved person can lodge a complaint, and the burden of proof lies on the accused or the person who has converted.
Critics have called it regressive and offensive, with many concerned that such laws will lead to misuse and harassment since “love jihad” has always been seen as a term used by fringe right-wing radical Hindu groups. It is not a term officially recognised by Indian law.
Three days after the first FIR under the new anti-conversion of Uttar Pradesh was registered in Bareilly, police on Wednesday arrested the accused Owais Ahmad, 21, for allegedly pressuring a Hindu woman to convert to Islam and threatening her parents when they objected.
According to a statement issued by Bareilly police, the accused was absconding for the past few days and police teams were conducting raids since November 28, when an FIR was registered against him under sections 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC and the Uttar Pradesh Vidhi Viruddh Dharm Samparivartan Pratishedh Adhyadesh, 2020, which was notified on Saturday.
It is alleged that Owais was in a relationship with a woman from the same locality and they had eloped last year, before being brought back. While Owais had been arrested then, the woman had denied charges of kidnapping made against him by her father. In April, the woman’s family married her off to someone else.
In the FIR registered on Sunday, the woman’s father has alleged that Owais has been trying to convert her, luring and pressuring her. The complaint has added that he is threatening the family.
According to senior police officers, the woman’s family has said that since he came to know of the marriage, Owais had been harassing them and pressuring them to call back the woman and let the two of them get married after she converts. He last visited the family on Saturday after which they approached police, said SHO of Deorania Police Station, Daya Shankar.