New Delhi: Hours after governor Anandiben Patel promulgated the controversial Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, the state’s police lodged the first case in Bareilly.
But questions are already being asked about the case, which seems tailor made to justify the law’s swift promulgation.
In an FIR registered in Deonaria police station on Saturday, one Tikaram, a resident of Sharifnagar village in Bareilly, said that a Muslim man had befriended his daughter as they studied together and wanted to “coerce, coax, and allure her into converting”.
“Despite repeated disapprovals by me and my family, he (the boy) is not listening, and is applying pressure on me and my family through abuses and death threats to fulfil his desire,” the FIR quoted Tikaram as saying.
Bareilly’s superintendent of police (rural) Sansar Singh told The Hindu that a case of kidnapping the girl had already been registered against the man before the new law was invoked to file a separate FIR. “He was pressuring her to convert from her religion and marry,” Singh said, adding that the accused person is absconding.
But the young woman’s brother, Kesarpal Rathore, told the newspaper reporter that the case was an old one and had been resolved in 2019. The woman had eloped with the Muslim man in October 2019 but the police tracked the couple down.
“The case had come to an end one year ago with the court decision,” he said, claiming that there had been no contact between the man and his sister girl after the settlement and her subsequent marriage to another boy in May 2020.
Interestingly, he said that the family had not approached the police for the latest FIR, but that it was the police which came to their house to question them about the earlier case. “Police came to our house. And said there was an old file lying [with them]. Police told me they are taking him [father] to the police station for questioning for some investigation,” The Hindu quoted him saying.
Nevertheless, the police have now charged the man under Section 3 of the new ordinance, which says “no person shall convert or attempt to convert any other person from one religion to another” using coercion, force or allurement etc.
Asked about the charge in the light of the earlier matter having been resolved, the Deonaria SHO told The Hindu that the family had earlier decided to hush up the matter to protect its honour and claimed that the man was bothering her even after she had got married.
But if the purported case is actually one of a former lover allegedly harassing a woman who has married someone else, it is not clear why the law being pressed against him is the anti-conversion ordinance.
Under the new law, coerced religious conversions will be treated as cognizable and non-bailable offences, with penalties up to 10 years in prison if the accused is found to have married through “misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or other allegedly fraudulent means”. Other violations in the law also mention that the guilty can be imprisoned for over a year extendable to five years with a fine of Rs 15,000. In case of the unlawful conversion of a minor, or a woman of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community, the punishment could be extended to 10 years with a fine of Rs 25,000.