Police in the northern Indian town of Kushinagar halted a marriage ceremony between two Muslims last week and arrested the groom after local residents reported the union to authorities, falsely claiming that the bride was once Hindu, Indian news site The Wire reported on Sunday.
The groom, Haider Ali, 39, has alleged that police officers beat him while he was in custody overnight. His bride, Shabeela Khatoon, 28, was also taken into police custody on the day of their attempted wedding, December 8.
“On Tuesday afternoon [December 8], Shabeela and I got married. After the ceremony, a small party was on when a police team arrived and said there had been no ‘nikaah‘ [Arabic for ‘marriage’]. They wouldn’t listen to anything and took us to the police station around 7.30 pm. There they let the cleric go after he changed his statement and said the ‘nikaah’ wasn’t final yet,” Ali told the Indian Express on December 11.
Ali claimed that he was “beaten up with a belt” by police at the local station while Khatoon was held in another room.
“One of the policemen asked another to skin me. … I tried to talk to them. … When Shabeela heard me crying, she panicked. The policemen asked her about her family but she was scared. Only around 9 pm could I convince her to tell the police her brother’s number,” he told the newspaper.
“Her family told the police she was Muslim, and sent a photo of her Aadhaar card [government-issued ID] and even made a video call. The police personnel were polite after that, but still did not let us go. They said they would wait for her brother to arrive. I was kept in the verandah in the cold,” he said.
The local police station chief, Sanjay Kumar, told the Indian Express that police released the couple after Khatoon’s brother arrived from a nearby village and the bride “said in her brother’s presence that she did not want to go with her family and would marry Ali.”
“Her brother said if she wanted to get married, they [Khatoon’s family] did not have any objection,” Kumar explained. The couple married the next day, on December 9.
The arrest took place in Uttar Pradesh, a northern Indian state that passed a new law on November 24 establishing a prison term of up to ten years for anyone found guilty of using marriage to force someone to change religions. The legislation was inspired by an alleged phenomenon known as “love jihad,” by which Muslim men are accused of converting Hindu women to Islam through the lure of marriage.
“The police in Kushinagar reportedly received a phone call saying that an inter-faith marriage was going to take place, with a Hindu woman having converted to Islam for the wedding, and that was enough for them to decide to stop the wedding,” according to The Wire.
Local police station chief Kumar “blamed ‘miscreants’ for spreading rumors of ‘love jihad,’ and said they had let the couple go after realizing both were major [adults] and of the same religion,” the Indian Express reported.
Kushinagar Superintendent of Police Vinod Kumar Singh denied Ali’s allegations that police beat him while he was in custody.
“It was not like the couple were brought to the police station in secret. Also, the matter was soon sorted. … There was no reason to beat up anyone,” he told the newspaper.
Under Uttar Pradesh’s new “love jihad” law — officially termed the “Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion” — anyone wanting to convert to another religion through marriage must present the desire in writing to the district magistrate at least two months in advance of the ceremony. The union will then be allowed if the magistrate finds no objections to the conversion.