A Muslim teenager from Uttar Pradesh was arrested under the new anti-conversion law that targets inter-faith marriages, after he was found walking with a Dalit Hindu girl in Bijnor district of Uttar Pradesh, The Indian Express reported on Friday.

The incident took place on the night of December 14. The girl and the boy, who were former classmates, were walking back home from a friend’s birthday party when they were allegedly chased by a group of men. The men beat the two with sticks and forced them to identify themselves. When it became apparent that the boy and girl belonged to different religions, the group allegedly whisked them away to a local police station.

The Muslim boy was subsequently booked under the anti-conversion law and on charges of abduction. He was also charged under sections of the SC/ST Act, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and is currently lodged in a jail in Bijnor.

The police claim the a first information report was filed in Dhampur on a complaint by the girl’s father. The report stated that the accused had “induced the girl to elope with him” with the “intention to marry and convert her”.

But the girl’s father denied filing the complaint with consent. He alleged the police had dictated the statement to him. “I trust my daughter completely,” he told The Indian Express. “What wrong did she do? Why must she be made part of politics? Is it unlawful for a boy and a girl to walk together now?”

The girl also denied that she was forced and asserted that she was walking with the boy out of her free will. “I have told this to the magistrate, and I will say this again, those men had a problem with me walking with my friend,” she added. “They made videos of me and are now calling it love jihad. I did nothing wrong.”

Contradictory statements were also made about the boy’s age. While police claim he is 18 years old, his family maintains he is 17, a minor.

Dhampur Station House Officer Arun Kumar told the newspaper that the accused was in judicial custody. “If he is minor, they [the boy’s family] will have to produce documents to show that,” he said. “We have invoked appropriate sections in this case after questioning the girl and on the basis of her father.”

Father alleges village politics

Meanwhile, the father of the girl blamed the local pradhan of his village for politicising the incident because he was planning to contest local body elections against him. “This is all politics,” he said. “They made videos of my daughter and falsely claimed that this was a case of love jihad. I have been pradhan before and was planning to contest again. But now they have shamed my daughter and polarised the village.”

But the village head denied the allegations. “I helped the girl’s father to file the FIR,” he claimed, according to the newspaper. “You must remember, hara hua pradhan hai [He is a pradhan who lost].”

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.

Also read:

‘Love jihad’: 14 members of Muslim man’s family arrested under anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh