Updated: March 20, 2021 7:35:26 am
Within just three months of BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh clearing an anti-conversion ordinance modelled on a legislation in Uttar Pradesh to check what it calls “love jihad”, the state police have registered 21 cases against 47 people with 25 arrests recorded so far.
Police records investigated by The Indian Express show that in at least 11 of the 21 cases, the women who registered complaints under the Freedom to Religion Act 2021 knew the accused — they were friends, in a relationship, and in one case, married for over five years.
Records show that in at least four cases, the couple had eloped and returned before the women involved approached the police. Three other cases were lodged after the intervention of Hindutva groups. The remaining six cases were recorded against those alleged to be Christian missionaries “trying to lure villagers” to convert.
Of the 21 cases, four have been registered in Indore, three in Seoni, two in Bhopal, and one each in Barwani, Khargone, Rewa, Harda, Chhatarpur, Balaghat, Alirajpur, Mandsaur, Dindori, Khandwa, Sehore, and Dhar.
Speaking to reporters after the law was passed in the State Assembly, Home Minister Narottam Mishra had said: “Any love that heads towards jihad, we will oppose it. Any love that offends our sentiments, we will oppose it. Any love that will make our daughters and sisters suffer, will be opposed by us.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Additional Director General of Police (Crime Against Women), Pragya Richa Srivastava said: “We have so far received 21 cases and as per our details, a majority of these cases are by women, both minor and major, who have stated that they have been pressured to convert their religion, in many cases after being sexually assaulted. As per their statements, FIRs have been registered and we are carrying out investigations.”
Consider these illustrative cases:
* On February 24, a 19-year-old woman in Harda registered a complaint under the new law accusing a 22-year-old man of kidnap and rape along with attempts at forced conversion. The FIR states that the woman knew the accused, Salman Khan, for eight months, and that they had eloped on January 25. It states that the two reached Maharashtra’s Aurangabad, stayed in a rented house and returned to Harda after they ran out of money. The next day, the woman approached the police.
* On February 26, police in Khargone district’s Mandleshwar booked two youths from Indore who were celebrating a birthday with two girls who were their classmates from high school, at Jam Gate, which is a picnic spot. The four of them were spotted by members of a local Hindutva outfit and taken to the police station. The complaint registered on February 26 by relatives of the girls accused the two youths, Sohail Khan and Hassan Khan, of forcing them to convert.
In January, The Indian Express reported on how police in UP registered 14 cases and made 51 arrests within a month of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, coming into effect on November 28.
In Madhya Pradesh, the anti-conversion ordinance was cleared on January 9 and The Freedom to Religion Bill 2021 passed on March 8 by the Vidhan Sabha. Section 3 of the new act prohibits unlawful conversion or attempt at conversion through misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat, force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or other fraudulent means. Section 5 defines punishment for those booked under section 3, with jail terms ranging from one to 10 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
On March 4, the Madhya Pradesh High Court sought the response of the state government on a plea demanding a repeal of the law on the grounds that section 3 is in contravention of the rights to life, liberty, equality, free speech and religion guaranteed in the Constitution.
Significantly, the new law does not mandate victims to record their statements before a magistrate — unless it’s a case of sexual assault. Instead, the law says investigating agencies can choose to utilise this provision, if they decide it is necessary.
In all the 21 cases, the accused are from minority communities, including Muslims (15 cases) and Christians (six cases). Records show that in 15 cases, the charges include those under sections of the IPC for rape and molestation.
In 12 cases, the complainants approached police alleging forced conversion through written applications. And in at least one glaring case, the application directly contradicted a statement recorded earlier by the complainant in a police station.
On January 17, an 18-year-old from Rewa who had gone missing on December 26 reached the police station in Saman with a man identified as Ibraz Khan. She recorded a statement that she had left her house of her own free will with Ibraz, who lived in her village, after her parents tried to get her married to someone else.
However, with her family having already registered a “missing person” complaint, police “counselled” the woman for three days after which she was handed over to her parents on January 20.
On January 27, the woman returned with her parents and submitted an application that she had been forcefully abducted by Ibraz, also known as Yuvraj, and kept locked in a room, raped and pressured to convert for marriage. Ibraz was booked for kidnap and rape, and under the new law.
Of the 21 cases, six were registered against those accused of forcing others to convert to Christianity “through allurement”.
* A complaint lodged in Balaghat’s Lalburra police station on January 27 states that Chhattar Singh Khatre, a government school teacher, had called a prayer service at his house to mark his daughter’s departure to pursue higher education. The complainant, Deepak Patel, alleged that he had attended the function where people were being lured to convert to Christianity. Khatre and two others were arrested on the same day.
* On February 22, the principal of a convent school in Khajuraho was booked under the new law on a complaint from an assistant librarian whose salary had been docked and services terminated. But the principal, Sister Bhagya, was granted anticipatory bail after she argued in the High Court that the case was “false” and “registered out of frustration” as the employee Ruby Singh’s services were terminated on account of poor attendance and lack of documentation.
Maria Stephen, Public Relations Officer in MP for The Christian Community, a global organisation, said the new law “has left people feeling scared to pray even inside their own homes”. “All are equal before the law, but this law is being used in such a manner that it has empowered fundamentalists to act against minorities without any fear,” she said.
Sayyed Sajid Ali, Senior Advocate in the High Court, alleged that the new law “is clearly targeting” minorities. “The act has empowered fundamentalists who are reaching out to families of those who either eloped or had a fight with their partner of a different religion, and luring them to give false statements and getting cases registered under the anti-conversion act,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.