The police in Uttar Pradesh’s Etah district have arrested 14 members of a Muslim man’s family under the new ordinance against unlawful conversions, The Times of India reported on Wednesday. Mohammad Javed, who is on the run, is accused of kidnapping and unlawfully converting a Hindu woman to Islam.

A first information report was filed at Etah’s Jalesar police station on the basis of a complaint by the woman’s father on December 17. The father, who is a local businessman, allegedly received a letter from Javed’s lawyer in Delhi, informing him about his daughter’s conversion and marriage.

“Javed and his close relatives are still absconding,” a police officer told the newspaper. The police have also announced a reward of Rs 25,000 on each of the five missing accused.

The woman, who was a neighbour of Javed’s, has been missing since November 17, according to The Times of India. A case has been registered under Indian Penal Code Section 366 (kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her marriage etc) and under the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020.

Jalesar Station House Officer Krishna Pal Singh said three relatives each from Javed’s family were arrested on Saturday and Sunday, while eight more were arrested on Tuesday. Singh claimed that those arrested were in regular contact with the main accused.

“Fourteen people have been arrested so far,” Deputy Superintendent of Police Ram Niwas Singh also confirmed. “Three police teams are trying to find the woman, and arrest the absconding accused.”

‘Love jihad’

The ordinance against unlawful conversions was promulgated by Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel on November 28, days after it was passed by the Adityanath-led state Cabinet. The law is intended to target “love jihad” – 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. Ever since the law came into force, the Adityanath government has launched a crackdown on interfaith marriages in the state, arresting a spate of Muslim men.

Apart from Uttar Pradesh, four other BJP-ruled states – Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Haryana and Assam – have also decided to introduce laws aimed at preventing inter-faith marriage. Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra had announced last month that the government will table a bill to check forced conversions in the state Assembly during the upcoming session.

The Centre itself told the Lok Sabha in February that no “case of ‘love jihad’ had 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.