Days after her friend, with whom she was walking home after a birthday party in Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, was booked under the month-old anti-conversion law and slapped with charges under sections of the SC/ST Act, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the 16-year-old stands firm.
“I have told this to the magistrate, and I will say this again. Those men had a problem with me walking with my friend. They made videos of me and are now calling it love jihad. I did nothing wrong. I went of my own free will,” she told The Indian Express.
Around 10.30 pm on December 14, the girl, a Dalit, and her former classmate, a Muslim, were walking back home after a friend’s birthday party, when they were allegedly chased by a group of men, beaten with sticks and questioned. When it became apparent that they belonged to different religions, they were allegedly whisked away to a local police station.
The FIR, registered allegedly on a complaint by the girl’s father, stated that the accused “induced the girl to elope with him” with the “intention to marry and convert her”.
The girl’s father has, however, denied his complaint, alleging that police dictated the statement. “I trust my daughter completely. What wrong did she do? Why must she be made part of politics? Is it unlawful for a boy and a girl to walk together now?”
The youth, who was subsequently booked under the month old anti-conversion law and charges of abduction and under sections of the SC/ST Act, and POCSO Act, is now in a jail in Bijnor.
While police claim the man is 18 years old, his family members maintain he is 17.
Arun Kumar, Station House Officer, Dhampur, where the FIR was filed, said, “The accused is in judicial custody. If he is minor, they will have to produce documents to show that. We have invoked appropriate sections in this case after questioning the girl and on the basis of her father’s complaint.”
Blaming the local pradhan for allegedly politicising the incident, the girl’s father said, “This is all politics. They made videos of my daughter and falsely claimed that this was a case of love jihad. I have been pradhan before and was planning to contest again. But now they have shamed my daughter and polarised the village,” her father told The Indian Express.
Denying the father’s accusations, the pradhan said, “I was with the girl’s father when this case came to my notice. I helped them file the FIR. You must remember, hara hua pradhan hai (He is a pradhan who lost)”.
A few kilometers from the girl’s house is a one-room brick house where the youth lived with his family — his four siblings, and his mother.
“I just want to see my son again. Police have filed a false case against him,” said the youth’s mother, folding her mat after her evening namaaz.
While her eldest son works as a farm labourer, another works as a tailor in Dehradun. Her youngest, now in jail, used to work in Jalandhar before shifting to Dehradun, where he earned Rs 5,000 a month as a welder’s apprentice. Her husband died a year ago of heart ailments. The family claims the youth, who dropped out after Class 3, is a minor but have no documents to prove it.
The mother says that when she fell ill with typhoid, she called her youngest son in Dehradun and asked him to visit her. He reached on December 9.
“On December 14, my son left in the evening, saying he was attending a birthday party and won’t be home for dinner. Now they are accusing him of converting a girl to Islam. This is completely false,” his mother said.
“Everything is ruined for us this year. Now we have to collect money to fight this case,” the youth’s brother said.