On February 5, an 18-year-old Hindu girl from Rajasthan’s Kota district eloped with a 21-year-old Muslim man. Weeks later, three Muslim teachers of the government school in Khajuri Odpur village she had studied in were accused of facilitating religious conversion and encouraging “love jihad” – even though she had passed out of the school two years ago.

“Love jihad” is a Hindutva conspiracy theory that accuses Muslim men of trapping Hindu women in romantic relationships expressly to convert them to Islam.

The parents of the woman have claimed that she is underage and accused the man, a car mechanic, of kidnapping her. A first information report has been filed at the Sangud police station.

The action against the three teachers were taken on the basis of a memorandum submitted by a Hindutva organisation, the Sarva Hindu Samaj, to the state’s education minister. Since then, students of the school have held protests, defending their teachers and demanding that they be reinstated. Rajasthan is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

As proof of their allegations, the Sarva Hindu Samaj cited the woman’s admission form filled in 2019, where her religion is misakenly mentioned as Islam. The form was signed by the student’s father and principal – and does not bear the signatures of any of the three suspended teachers. One of the teachers was appointed to the school only four months ago.

The suspended teachers argue that the entry under religion was a “clerical error” and does not prove their involvement in what the woman did after she passed out of school.

The Kota rural superintendent of police, meanwhile, told Scroll that the woman had been “released” after she made a statement to a judge in the district and sessions court in Kota. He said the police were not investigating the teachers over the matter of the admission form.

The allegations

On February 21, during a public hearing of education minister Madan Dilawar in Baran district, the Sarva Hindu Samaj submitted a memorandum alleging that the teachers at the government school in Khajuri Odpur were engaged in “love jihad, religious conversion” and are connected to the banned organisation, the Popular Front of India.

A day later, the district education officer of Kota district suspended the three teachers of the school – Shabana, Firoz Khan, and Mirza Mujahid – and transferred them to the education department headquarters in Bikaner, almost 500 km away..

“It was unbelievable and shocking,” said Mujahid, who received the suspension order on his WhatsApp account.

The memorandum blamed the Muslim teachers of the school for the woman’s leaving home, claiming that in a planned manner, the teachers had helped the student get “involved in Islamic Jihadi activities, including reading namaz and establishing contact with Muslims”.

The father of the woman, too, blamed the teachers. “This is the conspiracy of teachers,” he said. “They asked my daughter to change her religion. They planned it for years.”

A clerical error?

At the heart of the allegations is a form filed by the woman when she was admitted to the school in August 2019 as a Class 10 student.

The form, which Scroll has seen, states that she was born in July, 2005 and that her religion is Islam.

Firoz Khan, 52, one of the suspended teachers, acknowledged the mistake in the form but said that the entry for religion was a “clerical error”.

He explained that two girls in her class, both Muslim, had the same name as the 18-year-old.

“Either the girl filled out her form by copying from the forms of her classmates, or the teacher who filled it confused her with other students,” he said. “In any case, there was no conspiracy. It was a clerical error. It went unnoticed.”

He said that the form was signed by her father and the principal.

The woman passed out of the school in June 2022, though her transfer certificate, which Scroll has seen, is dated February 2023.

Khan said that none of her subsequent documents at the school show her religion as Muslim. Her school-leaving certificate does not mention her religion but says she belongs to an OBC [Other Backward Classes] community.

“When the police questioned the woman, she told them she wanted to live with the boy and refused to go back to her parent's home," said Firoz Khan, who was posted to the school five years ago. “Now her parents are blaming the school.”

Khan said it has been more than two years since the woman left the school and asserted that the teachers are not responsible for how she lives her life.

The other two accused teachers rejected the allegations as “baseless” and said that they or the school had nothing to do with the elopement. Mujahid said that the students and teachers from across the community have worked and lived in harmony in the school and there has never been any conflict among them on account of religion. Of the 15 teachers in the school, 12 are Hindus and three are Muslim. Around 250 students are enrolled in the school, 75 of whom are Muslim, said Mujahid.

All the three Muslim teachers are now suspended. “We have been targeted because we are Muslims,” said Khan. “It is a baseless case, and we are being discriminated against because of our religion.”

In her written statement submitted to Chief Block Educational Officer, Sangud, Shabana, who was appointed four months ago, too dismissed the allegations of engaging in “love jihad” and religious conversion. “I am not involved in any religious activity, nor do I teach any religious activities in the school,” she said in a statement.

A few non-Muslim teachers and members of the school management committee have also submitted their testimonials before the education department officials, dismissing the allegation against their Muslim colleagues or the school. For example, Surendra Kumar Meena, a teacher in the school, said that the allegations of “love jihad” and religious conversion were false.

‘Police pressure’

Two days after the couple eloped, the uncle of the man, 59-year-old Mazoor Foji, alleged he was picked up from his home in Khanpur, 75 km away in Jhalawar district, at 1.30 in the night, and taken to the Sangud police station.

Foji said he was detained under a section of the Indian Penal Code invoked for concealing facts and a section of the Code of Criminal Procedure to prevent the commission of a cognisable offense.

He said he was released after the police found the woman. “The police said that the woman had given a statement in favor of my nephew and let me go,” Foji said. “I had to pay a lawyer Rs 4,000 for my bail.”

The 21-year-old man lived with his maternal grandmother, Abdul Saleem. The 69-year-old was also summoned by the police on Sunday. He alleged the police wanted to pressure the woman to change her statement. “I told them the woman would not listen to him,” Saleem recalled telling the police. “They said if we did not cooperate, they would bulldoze our home and shops. I told them, ‘If you have the power, you can do whatever you want’. We are poor people.”

Karan Sharma, the superintendent of police, Kota Rural, said the man’s family members were being questioned as the investigation was underway.

Sharma told Scroll that the police had located the woman and recorded her statement before the Kota district and sessions court. “We released her based on the statement she made but I cannot disclose what she said there,” he said. “That is part of the file.”

Ashfaq Ahmad, the lawyer who was assisting the Muslim man’s family, said that the woman recorded her statement in front of a judge at the district and sessions court complex in Kota on February 13. “She denied that the Muslim man had abducted her,” Ahmad said. “That is why she was allowed to decide who she wants to be with. The police then released the relatives of the man they had detained.”

Ahmad added that the woman had not converted to Islam, nor had the couple gotten married yet.

On Monday, students held a protest demonstration outside the office of the subdivisional magistrate, Sangud, demanding that the three teachers be reinstated and allowed to resume their duties at the school.