New Delhi — Police in India’s Uttar Pradesh state made their first arrest this week under a controversial new law targeting something right-wing Hindu groups call “love jihad” — an alleged religious conversion conspiracy by Muslim men to lure Hindu women into marriage and away from their faith.
Owais Ahmed, a Muslim man, was arrested on Wednesday after a Hindu man accused him of coercing and trying to lure his daughter away from her Muslim husband and into converting to Islam. Ahmed appeared in court and was remanded in custody for 14 days pending trial.
“This is the first arrest under the new law,” senior Uttar Pradesh state police officer Rajesh Kumar Pandey was quoted as saying by Indian media.
Speaking to Indian news outlet The Print, Ahmad maintained his innocence and said he has no current connection with the woman, a former high school classmate who got married a year ago to a Hindu man and remains in that marriage.
Ahmed was the first person arrested under the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020. The new legislation, which has come to be known colloquially in India as the “love jihad law,” was adopted (only hours before Ahmed’s arrest) this week by the regional government in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with almost 200 million residents.
The law is ostensibly aimed at protecting people against “forced” or “fraudulent” religious conversion. A section of the legislation says no person shall convert or attempt to convert any other person from one religion to another by “use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion.”
People convicted of violating the law can face up to 10 years in prison without the possibility of bail, along with hefty fines. The law places the burden of proof of innocence on the accused, rather than plaintiffs having to prove their claims to a court.
Critics have called the new legislation Islamophobic, regressive, and politically motivated, and warned that it may lead to harassment of Muslims in the Hindu majority country. Some believe it will drive interfaith couples to hide their relationships.
On Friday, it emerged that Uttar Pradesh police had also stormed a wedding on Wednesday underway between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man in the state capital of Lucknow. They halted the celebrations and brought both families to a local police station, where officers told the families they would need to get permission from the state government before going ahead with the ceremony, to ensure the new law was not being violated.