There is no evidence against a Muslim man who was among the first in Uttar Pradesh to be charged under a controversial new law against forced conversions, the Yogi Adityanath government told the Allahabad High Court today.
Nadeem, 32, and his brother Salman, were named in a complaint on November 29, 2020, two days after the UP ordinance was passed, in western Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar by Akshay Kumar Tyagi, who works in a prominent pharmaceutical company as a labour contractor.
Akshay said Nadeem, a labourer, used to visit his house in Muzaffarnagar and had “trapped” his wife Parul in a “web of love” to try and convert her. To seduce her, Nadeem gifted her a smartphone and promised to marry her, Akshay alleged in a First Information Report or FIR.
Last month, taking up a petition by Nadeem to scrap the FIR, the Allahabad High Court said the police cannot take any coercive action against him and granted him protection from arrest until the next date of hearing, which was today.
The court today extended that protection and posted the case for a fresh hearing on January 15.
“When the case was taken up in the honorable High Court today, the state gave an affidavit that said naming them in the FIR under the anti-conversion law was found to be false and nothing was found in the investigation that he tried to forcibly convert the woman for marriage. As far as the challenge to the Act goes, the main ground is that Article 25 guarantees that any person is free to choose his or her religion and the challenge is that the govt is interfering in our private affairs,” Nadeem’s lawyer Syed Farman Ahmad Naqvi said.
A six-page ‘short affidavit’ filed on Wednesday by Awadhesh Pandey, Joint Director, Prosecution, on behalf of the UP government says, “The Investigating officer has found that it is not a case of UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 and the Act UP Ordinance No. 21 of 2020… There is no evidence found that the accused Nadeem is having an illicit relation with Parul, nor has any evidence come forward that he tried to change the religion of Parul.”
The affidavit, however, adds that the investigating officer found evidence that Nadeem had threatened Akshay, and so a charge-sheet for “criminal intimidation and provocation causing breach of public peace” had been submitted in a court on December 31.
In the last hearing, the High Court had said there was no evidence placed before it yet “that any force or coercive process is being adopted” by Nadeem.
“The victim is admittedly an adult who understands her well-being. She as well as the petitioner have a fundamental right to privacy and to being grown-up adults who are aware of the consequences of their alleged relationship,” the court said in an important statement that could impact similar cases.
Uttar Pradesh adopted an anti-conversion ordinance last year amid increasingly shrill voices against “love jihad”, the right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men try to seduce Hindu women mainly to have them convert to Islam.
The term “love jihad is not defined by law”, the Union Home Ministry had told parliament in February last year, adding that no such case had been reported by the central agencies. However, since last month, several BJP-ruled states have moved towards making a law against it.
Uttar Pradesh, which has a significant Muslim population, was first off the block with an ordinance or executive order, which says religious conversions that use falsehood, force or an incentive, or take place solely for marriage, will be declared a crime.