A Muslim man and his brother were arrested in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh, after he and a Hindu woman tried to register their marriage, NDTV reported on Sunday. The men were charged under the new anti-conversion law that targets “love jihad”, a conspiracy theory used by Hindutva groups who accuse Muslim men of using marriage as a lure to force Hindu women to convert to Islam.

Members of the right-wing group Bajrang Dal, who reached the marriage registration office and accosted the couple, handed them over to the police. Bajrang Dal is affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is the ideological mentor of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Some Bajrang Dal members reportedly reached the marriage registration office in Kanth area of Moradabad on Friday, stopped the couple from going ahead with the procedure and took them to a nearby police station.

A widely circulated video on social media showed the Bajrang Dal activists, with saffron scarves tied around their necks, questioning the woman in the presence of police personnel. “Show us the permission you have from the DM [District Magistrate] to convert your religion,” one of the men tells the woman. “Have you read the new law or not?” another man says, adding, “Ye tum jaise logon ke liye banana pada hai [the law had to be made for people like you].”

Kanth Station House Officer Ajay Gautam told PTI that the two Muslim men were arrested on Friday on the basis of a complaint by the woman’s family. The police said the complaint was filed by the woman’s mother, who claimed her daughter was lured into the marriage and conversion. “We have arrested both men and will investigate the case thoroughly,” Vidya Sagar, a senior police official said, according to NDTV. It is not clear if the woman or the man changed their religion.

The woman, however, refuted her mother’s claim and said her relationship was completely consensual. “I am an adult, I am 22 years old,” she told reporters. “I got married of my own free will on the 24th of July. This is the fifth month that we have been married.”

When asked how the Kanth Station House Officer established a case of “love jihad”, Gautam said, according to Hindustan Times: “The girl was wearing a burqa and was taken to a Maulvi.”

The arrested men were booked under Section 3 of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020. Section 3 of the law states that no person shall convert or attempt to convert any other person from one religion to another by “use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion”.

The legislation makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence, inviting penalties of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. For converting minors and women of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes community, the punishment goes up to 10 years in jail.

Love jihad cases in UP

This is the fifth such case to be lodged under the new law, according to The Hindu. The police registered their first case against a Muslim man in the state’s Bareilly district on November 28, merely hours after the ordinance was promulgated by Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel. Owais Ahmad was arrested on December 3 and sent to 14 days judicial custody.

Since then seven persons have been arrested and eight were booked in Sitapur, while 14 persons were booked in Mau and two were charged in Muzaffarnagar, according to the newspaper.

Notably, the law was passed despite the fact that Adityanath’s own administration – the Uttar Pradesh Special Investigation Team – had failed to gather any proof that such a conspiracy of forcible conversion exists.

Other states

Apart from Uttar Pradesh, four other BJP-ruled states have also decided to introduce laws aimed at preventing inter-faith marriage. On Thursday, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan warned that anyone who plots “love jihad” in the state will be “destroyed.”

Other Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states like Karnataka and Haryana have made similar claims. Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had said earlier this month that his government would take measures to end religious conversions in the name of “love jihad”. Meanwhile, the Haryana government on November 26 formed a three-member drafting committee to frame a law for the same.

In February, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that no “case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies”. Investigations by the National Investigation Agency and the Karnataka Criminal Investigation Department have turned up no evidence for this alleged conspiracy either. The National Commission for Women maintains no data about “love jihad” too.