A week after passing a controversial “Love Jihad” law, authorities from India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh have now stopped a Hindu-Muslim wedding asking the couple to seek “clearance from the district magistrate” first.
The incident took place on Wednesday in UP’s capital Lucknow, where a Hindu woman and Muslim man were set to get married when local police arrived and asked both parties to come to the police station, citing the newly passed law against “unlawful” conversions.
The police of Lucknow’s Para police station told The Indian Express they acted on the complaints of a Hindu group, however, both bride and groom said they were getting married of their own will.
Nonetheless, police insisted they halt the proceedings and apply for the approval of district authorities.
“Both of them were getting married with each other’s consent and there was no coercion of any type,” the Indian Express quoted senior police officer Triloki Singh.
“Some representatives of Hindu Yuva Vahini objected to the wedding and we stopped the wedding and told them that under the new conversion law, you can only get married if you have notified the district magistrate for the specified period of time. We told them that it should not seem that there is pressure to covert,” Mr Singh said.
The report said preparations for a traditional Hindu ceremony had already begun when the police arrived, and the couple told the police that neither bride nor groom was intending to convert religion.
Police said the family ultimately agreed to postpone the wedding until they receive permission from the authorities.
As the morning newspapers reported the incident, several people took to social media to denounce the state’s interference in a couple’s personal lives. One twitter user asked: “A boy and a girl are in love & wants to get married. What’s the role of state?” Another user termed the police’s move “infuriating and insulting for grown up adults.”
People pointed out how the new law infringes upon an individual’s right to choose a partner with their own will and called the BJP government’s law a tool for harassment.
The state of UP, where the national ruling BJP is also in power, passed a law last week criminalising conversion for the sole purpose of marriage amid strong criticism from those who said the law was pandering to Islamophobic fringe groups and impinging on citizens’ basic rights.
The law comes amid increasingly mainstream discussions around the concept of “Love Jihad” – a conspiracy theory coined by the Hindu right wing which claims that Muslim men are conspiring to convert Hindu women by seducing or forcing them to marry.
There is no evidence to suggest such a conspiracy exists, and several police investigations at various levels have ruled out a wider trend or coherent scheme along these lines.
In fact, UP police themselves recently said that in an investigation of 14 interfaith marriages involving criminal cases, invariably brought by the families of those getting married, there was no evidence of a wider conspiracy.
Critics say another problem with the new law is that it places the burden of proof on the accused.
According to legal news website Bar and Bench: “It [the law] states that the burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was effected through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, lies on the person who has caused the conversion and, where such conversion has been facilitated by any person, on such other person.”
Despite the lack of evidence about the existence of “Love Jihad”, the theory is increasingly being cited as requiring action, with several states where Narendra Modi’s BJP is in power now saying they want to pass their own similar laws.