Madhya Pradesh Police have filed assault, rape and criminal intimidation charges (File)
Police in Madhya Pradesh have filed the first case under the state's new 'anti-love jihad' law, after a 22-year-old girl from Barwani district accused a 25-year-old married man of physically assaulting her over her refusal to marry him and convert to Islam.
"As per the woman's complaint the accused... was sexually exploiting her... He told the woman he was from her community. Later he started forcing her to marry him and convert to his community, after which the woman filed a complaint," Rajesh Yadav, the Inspector in charge of the Barwani station, said.
Assault, rape and criminal intimidation charges have been filed under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance (2020) and the police have begun their investigation.
The ordinance, which penalises religious conversions through fraudulent means came into force less than two weeks ago and provides for jail terms of up to 10 years and fines up to Rs 50,000.
Last month Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan declared "if someone plots religious conversion or does anything like 'love jihad', you will be destroyed".
Uttar Pradesh, another BJP-ruled state, passed a similar ordinance in October amid widespread (and ongoing) debate over "love jihad" - a right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men seduce Hindu women to convert them. The theory usually ignores relationships between Hindu men and Muslim women.
The term "love jihad" is not recognised by the centre - in February, the Home Ministry told parliament it was "not defined in law". Nevertheless several states have either passed, or talked of, laws against forced conversion. These include Assam, where the ruling BJP is prepping for elections later this year.
UP's 'anti-love jihad' ordinance has been invoked numerous times since it was enforced in November; most of those arrested are Muslim men who allegedly tried to convert Hindu women.
It is also notable because of several Allahabad High Court rulings on the subject.
Last month the court quashed an FIR against a Muslim man (accused by his father-in-law of forcing his daughter into marriage) and said the woman had the "right to live life on her terms".
A week before that ruling the High Court also stayed the arrest of a 32-year-old Muslim man, saying there was no evidence of "force or coercive process" in his marriage to a Hindu woman.
The High Court has also said marriage notices - required to be posted by interfaith couples at least 30 days in advance and seen as violating freedom of choice of marital partners - would be optional.
Ordinances against 'love jihad' have drawn fierce criticism from the opposition and the public.
Last month over 100 former IAS officers wrote to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, saying that it had transformed the state into "the epicentre of politics of hate, division and bigotry".
The letter hit out at "... a series of heinous atrocities committed by your administration against young Indians... who are simply seeking to live their lives as free citizens of a free country."
The ordinance was also criticised by four former judges, including former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur, who told NDTV it was "unconstitutional".