Mohammad Sohaib* has been in a district jail in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor for over a month for allegedly going to a birthday party with a Hindu girl.
On 22 January, more than a month after he was arrested on 14 December, Sohaib’s bail plea was rejected. “Na din ka chain hai, na raat ka sukoon,” his mother told The Wire over the phone.
The boy was booked under Sections 363 (kidnapping), 366 (kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel her for marriage) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC); Section 18 (punishment for attempt to commit an offence) of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO); Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (any offence punishable under the IPC with imprisonment of 10 years or more against a person on the ground that he is a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe) and under Sections 3 and 5 of the newly passed law prohibiting ‘unlawful conversions’ through inter-faith marriage.
The first information report (FIR) states that the boy had “befriended” the Hindu girl under the false pretence of being a Hindu, introducing himself as Sonu. On 14 December, he allegedly tried to elope with the girl, the FIR adds.
The complainant, the Hindu girl’s father, Anil, told The Wire that his daughter had managed to “run away before anything happened to her”. He adds, “Now the matter is in court. He will be punished for his crime.”
However, Sohaib’s mother says that the girl’s father had previously said that he did not want to pursue a case in this matter. In fact, he had told earlier, according to a report in Indian Express, “Is it unlawful for a boy and a girl to walk together now?”
His mother, Samiya* (name changed to protect the identity of the minor), aged 55, says that her son is only 17-year-old and mentally unstable. She does not know that a minor is dealt with differently in the eyes of the law. “He never went to school, so we anyway don’t have his papers to prove his age,” she says.
When asked if she showed him to a doctor for his mental condition, she said that they took him to a local government hospital when he was a child but didn’t have the money to continue his treatment.
“It has been a long time, how will I have documents? I don’t think the hospital even made papers. This is how it works in villages,” she informs when asked about the details.
Trumped up charges
Sohaib belongs to a poor family in a small village in Bijnor, Kiran Khedi, and has never gone to school. “He went to a madrassa (religious school) for a year as a child, but then he was not very religious so he left,” says Nafis, Sohaib’s cousin, who is now overlooking matters relating to the case. He adds, “We are now struggling to raise money to pay for his legal fees.”
His mother adds that they did not have enough money to continue his education. “And then some 5 years back, his father also died. We spent a lot of money on his treatment and didn’t have anything left after that,” she says. Since then, it has become necessary for the young boy to focus on learning to weld, so he could earn money and sustain his family.
The teen boy has two elder brothers and two elder sisters, who are married. Being the youngest at home, he is his mother’s favourite. His eldest brother, Arif, who is a daily wage worker, is married with four kids and cannot take the responsibility of his mother or younger brothers anymore, Samiya told The Wire. Arif now lives separately with his wife and kids in another village nearby.
“I just wished that my boy [Sohaib] would learn welding, so he could earn enough money to sustain the house,” she adds. Asif, Sohaib’s other brother is a tailor and earns very little.
Sohaib had returned to Kirar Khedi only on 9 December, five days before his arrest. He had been in Dehradun for about two months, where he had gone to learn welding. Her mother questions the possibility of him returning home and hatching a plan to elope with a Hindu girl, completely strange within such a short span.
Before going to Dehradun, the boy had been working with a welder in Punjab. When the nationwide lockdown in the wake of Coronavirus was imposed, he had to walk nearly half of the 400 km from Jalandhar to Bijnor, his mother tells The Wire.
He is now facing charges under the newly passed Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, popularly known as “love jihad,” which assumes that Muslim men have formed a nexus to convert Hindu girls to Islam through love or marriage.
Offences under the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government’s new law are non-bailable, so Sohaib can only be released from custody by a court.
In the first hearing of his bail application on 8 January in the Bijnor district court, the investigating police team said that they could not produce the case diary, Mashroof Kamaluddin, the boy’s lawyer tells The Wire. The hearing was then rescheduled for 15 January, which meant that the boy would remain in jail for exactly a month.
According to his family, the boy is only 17 years old, though they have no document to support their claim. The first information report (FIR) does not mention his age. Investigating officers have refused to comment about the procedural lapse that has delayed the youth’s bail hearing.
According to the complainant, father of 16-year-old Hindu girl, the boy intended to “convert” the girl to Islam and elope with her. But family members of the accused say that he was not too concerned with religion and that he did not know the girl from before.
“He had gone to a birthday party and didn’t return at night. We thought he would reach home the next morning. But then there was a knock on our door. The village head had come to tell me that my son had been arrested for trying to convert a Hindu girl to Islam. I couldn’t believe it,” Sohaib’s mother recalls.
Nafis says that the case is not that of love-jihad and it has been blown out of proportion. “The girl in question had first given a statement to the press that he had not done anything. Under the pressure of her family and the police, she changed her statement,” he adds.
But at the hearing of his bail application on 8 January in the Bijnor district court, the investigating police team claimed they could not produce the case diary, according to Mashroof Kamaluddin, one of the teen’s lawyers. The case diary is a record of day-to-day updates in the investigation.
“If the accused is minor, they [accused family] 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,” Arun Kumar, station house officer, Dhampur tells The Wire. He has not commented on boy’s unstable mental condition as alleged by the boy’s mother.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the accused boy and his mother. The accused boy, according to his parents, is only 17 years old.