Two teenagers walking home from a friend's birthday party in Uttar Pradesh's Bijnor were ambushed, harassed and taken to a police station in an incident that ended up being filed as a case of "love jihad" under a controversial new anti-conversion law.
The boy, a Muslim, has been in jail for over a week after being accused of trying to forcibly convert the 16-year-old Hindu girl - a charge denied by both the girl and her mother.
The teenager was arrested by the police on December 15 on a complaint purportedly by the father of the girl, who claimed that he had used a false Hindu identity to coax the girl to elope and was trying to force her to convert.
When a team of journalists met with the girl at her village, she appeared guarded in her responses but vehemently denied this was a case of so-called "love jihad", a term used by right-wing groups who allege that Muslim men get into relationships with Hindu women for the express purpose of converting them to Islam.
"Around 11.30 pm some people caught hold of us - the villagers beat us up. They accused us of theft. They caught one boy, I don't know who he was, and they caught me. I did not know who the boy was. It is not true that he was trying to convert me," the girl said in a brief interview to NDTV.
Her mother also backed this version, saying, "She was returning from a birthday party. The boy said he would drop her. The villagers caught them, she said she was at a birthday party but no one listened to her. We want justice."
The girl's father, who ostensibly filed an FIR alleging attempts at conversion, was unavailable for comment at his home. But a video circulated on social media showed him supporting the police's version. "The Muslim boy had taken my girl away. That is why a call was made to their helpline. The police are helping me and there is no question of any pressure or force. What is running in the media is fictional," the father says in the video. It is not clear who shot the video and where it was filmed.
The police claim the girl had been missing and was kidnapped by the teen but she "managed to escape".
"A girl had been missing for a few days, she has been found and a case filed. The boy had given a Hindu name, Sonu, and had coaxed her to run away for the purpose of converting. She somehow managed to escape. The accused has been arrested," said Sanjay Kumar, a senior police officer in Bijnor.
The police version is also disputed by the Pradhan or chief of the girl's village.
"The police seem to have made up a case, there was no love jihad involved. The girl's parents told me she had gone to a birthday party. The boy and she knew each other," the Pradhan, Vinod Saini, told NDTV.
"The villagers may have thought they were thieves and told the cops. They were taken to a police station. I got a phone call. I took the father to the police station. He gave a written statement saying no legal action was needed. We took the girl home. Later, a policeman called and said bring the girl to the police station. I asked why and he said a senior officer had called saying a love jihad case would be filed," Mr Saini said.
The Bijnor police put out a tweet to justify using the unlawful conversions law in this case. "The case was filed based on a complaint by the father of the girl, her statement has been recorded before a magistrate. The accused has been arrested on the basis of other evidence too," said the tweet.
At a village about 3 km from the home of the girl, the Muslim teenager's mother is in tears. "My boy said he was going for a birthday. The next morning we found out he was in a police station. I want him back, he was beaten also...," she told NDTV.
Arrests under UP's new law have been hugely controversial in some cases, with the police stopping weddings and rounding up newlyweds.