Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath on Friday directed officials of the state home department to prepare a plan to stop incidents of “love jihad” a term frequently used by Hindutva organisations to allege a conspiracy by Muslim men to marry women from other religions solely to convert them to Islam, The Indian Express reported.

Officials said the direction was issued after multiple incidents were reported from Kanpur, Meerut and Lakhimpur Kheri districts of the state, where the police claimed women were forced to convert and get married.

“There are increasing cases of love jihad being reported from different parts of the state,” said Mrityunjay Kumar, the media advisor to Adityanath. “Thus the chief minister instructed senior home department officials to prepare a plan to stop such incidents.”

Kumar added that officials have been asked to make a plan and check if a new strategy is required.

Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Awasthi, who was part of an informal meeting to discuss the matter, said authorities have to be harsh. “This is a social issue,” he added. “To stop it, they would have to be taken seriously – action needs to be taken against the accused. These days, social media is available everywhere and it goes into the mind of others as well. The accused should not be allowed to get bail; then the woman’s family should be given monetary help, etc.”

The state police have reported several inter-religious marriages in Kanpur’s Juhi Colony and formed a special investigating team to look into allegations of conversion, either by force or by “brainwashing” the women, according to The Indian Express. Families of five women from the area also met senior police officials and sought help.

On Tuesday, a 17-year-old girl’s mutilated body was found in Lakhimpur Kheri district. The police had said the minor was raped before being killed with a sharp weapon. A day later, an accused identified as Dilshad was arrested. Police cited this incident also to show rise in incidents of “love jihad”. Call records of the girl’s phone showed that she was in touch with Dilshad, according to the police.

In Meerut city, a man identified as Shamshad was arrested in connection with murder of a mother and her daughter. The police said investigation revealed that Shamshad had changed his name and allegedly projected himself as a Hindu before approaching the woman for marriage.

‘Love jihad’

In February, the Union Home Ministry had told the Lok Sabha that there was nothing defined as “love jihad” under current laws in the country and that no such case has been reported by any of the central agencies.

Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy had also said Article 25 of the Constitution provides for the freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health. “Various courts, including the Kerala High Court, have upheld this view,” Reddy said in a written reply.

He, however, added that two cases from Kerala involving inter-faith marriage had been investigated by the National Investigation Agency. One of these cases is believed to be a reference to the Hadiya case. Hadiya, formerly known as Akhila Ashokan, had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man in 2016. Her marriage, strongly opposed by her parents, triggered a legal and political storm that eventually reached the Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, an Assamese television serial Begum Jaan was banned by local authorities for two months over allegations of promoting “love jihad” and hurting religious sentiments. Complaints were received from Hindu Jagran Manch, a body linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and other groups.