The police in Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar district had stopped a wedding ceremony and took the couple to a police station based on rumours of “love jihad”, The Indian Express reported on Friday. “Love jihad” is pejorative term coined by the right-wing groups to push the conspiracy theory that Muslim men charm Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam.

The incident took place on Tuesday after the police received a phone call claiming that the groom, a Muslim man, was marrying a Hindu girl after converting her.

The groom, 39-year-old Haider Ali, has alleged that the police personnel beat him up with a leather belt and tortured him for hours at the Kasya Police Station. “One of the policemen asked another to skin me...I tried to talk to them,” Ali said.

The police let the couple go on Wednesday, only after they learnt that they both were Muslims. The woman’s brother travelled from Azamgarh district and informed the police that the family had no problem with his 28-year-old sister Shabeela Khatoon’s marriage. Khatoon’s family informed the police that she was a Muslim and also sent a photo of her Aadhaar Card as proof of her religion, Ali said.

The groom, who works as a barber, told the newspaper that on Tuesday afternoon they were taken to the police station around 7.30 pm after they got married. “After the ceremony, a small party was on when a police team arrived and said there had been no nikaah,” he said. “They wouldn’t listen to anything and took us to the police station...There they let the cleric go after he changed his statement and said the nikaah wasn’t final yet.”

Kasya Police Station House Officer Sanjay Kumar blamed “miscreants” for spreading the rumours, adding that the couple were allowed to go after they found out that they are from the same religion. Circle Officer Piyush Kant Rai, meanwhile, said that the police took prompt action as “the atmosphere is tense and the administration is strict about such cases”.

Kushinagar Superintendent of Police Vinod Kumar Singh denied the allegations of torture. “It was not like the couple were brought to the police station in secret,” Singh said. “Also, the matter was soon sorted...There was no reason to beat up anyone.”

Meanwhile, Mushtaqeem Ali, a watchman from Haider Ali’s village Gurmiya, admitted to making the phone call on the behest of some Hindu youths. Mushtaqeem Ali said that after being informed about a possible “love jihad”, he felt it was his duty to call the police.

Arman Khan, a local social activist, claimed that a few members of Hindu Yuva Vahini, a nationalist youth organisation formed by Chief Minister Adityanath, had “interrogated” the couple before the police arrived. Khan said that the barber had sought his help to get married to Khatoon. He was also taken to the police station on Tuesday along with the cleric conducting the ceremony.

Ali said he and Khatoon had known each other for a long time, adding that she had run away from her home and moved into his rented room a week ago.

Kasya Circe Officer Rai said Khatoon’s family had lodged a missing person’s report at a police station in Azamgarh after she left home on December 4. When asked if the police would take action against the person making the phone call, Rai said the information could be wrong, but it does not amount to any criminal charges.

‘Love jihad’ in Uttar Pradesh

The police in Uttar Pradesh have arrested many people after the state government passed the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 to target “love jihad” cases. The police had 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.

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.

In February, the Centre had 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.