With No Credible Evidence, "Love Jihad" Cases In Kanpur Crumble

Half of the 14 cases the police were investigating in Kanpur have collapsed, and a final closure report has been filed after the police concluded that these were consensual relationships between Hindu women and their Muslim partners, cops say.

Shalini, now Fiza Fatima, and her husband Mohammed Faisal refuted all allegations of "Love Jihad"

Kanpur/New Delhi:

Across India - from Karnataka to Haryana - BJP chief ministers are stoking fears, promising to bring laws to combat "love jihad" - the unproven right-wing conspiracy theory that Muslim men try to seduce non-Muslim women and have covert to Islam.

The most strident has been Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who issued a not-so-veiled warning that those who practise "love jihad" will be sent on their "antim sanksar" or last rites.

But in Adityanath's UP, the one BJP state in which the police are probing so-called "love jihad", the cases are rapidly coming undone, an NDTV investigation has found.

In August this year, the UP police created a Special Investigation Team or SIT in Kanpur, to probe alleged cases of "love jihad".

Two months later, half of the 14 cases the police were investigating have collapsed, and a final closure report has been filed after the police concluded that these were consensual relationships between Hindu women and their Muslim partners, according to Vikas Pandey, who is in charge of the SIT.

"From 14, only 7 are still being investigated," he said.

Of the remaining seven, NDTV closely scrutinised three cases which seem on the brink of unravelling for similar reasons: in two cases, the so-called women victims clearly say that they were not coerced by their Muslim partners into marriage or conversion, while in another, the neighbours claim that the boy and girl were in a relationship before it turned sour.

One of the cases being probed by the police - and which triggered the narrative of a "love jihad" outbreak in Kanpur is that of a young woman called Shalini Yadav.

On August 7, Shalini's mother filed a police complaint alleging that her daughter was threatened and taken away at gunpoint by a man called Mohammed Faisal, who lives in a Kanpur neighbourhood called Juhi Colony, forcibly converted her to Islam and was trying to force her into prostitution and trafficking.

Four days later, on August 11, Shalini uploaded a now-viral video saying she had converted and married of her own will. She also repeated her assertions of free will in a statement to the courts - a Delhi sessions court, and the Delhi High Court. Even her conversion certificate, reviewed by NDTV, says "I accept Islam by my own choice."

Her mother, Satarupa Yadav, however, insists that it is a conspiracy - a claim she cannot back with evidence.

"It is Love Jihad. Because she was a minor when she was trapped. She is 22 now. She is speaking under pressure," she told us.

When we ask the mother of proof of the more outrageous allegations - that Faisal and her family were attempting to traffic her - she falters. All she can offer is that she "feels" and they (Muslims) are "the type".

When we met Shalini, now Fiza Fatima, and her husband Mohammed Faisal near the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, she stuck to her stand: the allegations in the FIR are false.

"I am standing here confidently and speaking. I have done an MBA. Do you think I am so educated but still anybody can come and 'behla phuslakar' (coerce) he can take me away? Don't I have any sense? Am I a baby girl that somebody will say something and I will get brainwashed" she asked.

Her husband, when asked why she converted and not him, said he was willing to convert as well. He said that when they had gone to the marriage registrar's office, and they were asked who would be converting, he had put up his hand, along with Fiza. However, she wouldn't allow him and insisted that she wanted to convert.

Regardless of the lack of credible evidence of any wrongdoing, on August 20, Yogi Adityanath's media adviser tweeted the viral video of Shalini Yadav, aka Fiza Fatima, citing it as an example of "love jihad".

Nine days after his tweet, the UP police constituted a Special Investigation Team to probe similar FIRs of Hindu girls who had married or had relationships with Muslim boys.

The SIT set out to probe 14 FIRs in all, but at the core of the narrative of a nexus were three FIRs, involving Hindu girls in a relationship with Muslim boys from the same locality - Juhi Colony.

Another case still being probed is of Ekta Verma, who married a man called Mohsin, who like Faisal is also said to be from Juhi Colony.

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Ekta also told NDTV that she converted to Islam of her own free will.

On August 24, Ekta's father Hari Kishore Pasi filed an FIR that a gang of boys from Juhi Colony, including Mohsin and Faisal, were threatening to take his daughter, Ekta, away under "Love Jihad".

The FIR also claims that Mohsin, Ekta's husband, as well as members of the so-called gang, used casteist slurs against him.

When we met Ekta, like Shalini, she says she converted and married Mohsin of her own free will and has the conversion papers to prove it.

When we asked her father for proof of his allegations of conspiracy, he says it's because all the boys are known to each other and that call records prove this.

Despite Ekta's assertion of free will, the police arrested Mohsin as well as his friend Aamir and two others. Mohsin has since been released after her statement. But Aamir is still in jail.

We asked the police why the Shalini Yadav and the Ekta Verma cases were still open, given that there is so far little evidence of criminality.

Mr Pandey, in charge of the SIT, said that it is because the Muslim men the girls married are from the same locality and there were some connections between the cases.

Off camera, a member of the SIT also claimed to have call records to show the boys were in touch.

Aamir's mother, Ekta, Shalini and Faizal all say the men were not part of any gang, and that they did not know each other.

We get a glimpse of another aspect of these cases from Ekta (who know goes by the name of Alia Khan), of the involvement of Sangh Parivar groups.

She claims that members of the Bajrang Dal had come to her family home and threatened her.

"They said that if you don't agree (to leave Mohsin and stay with her own family), then we will do whatever we need to," she said.

This involvement of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or VHP and the Bajrang Dal was seen in all the cases NDTV investigated, but their role seems to be the clearest in the case of a 16-year-old girl from Kanpur who left home in February this year, which is still being probed by the SIT.

We have concealed all identities relating to this case because of her family's assertion that she is a minor.

The 16-year-old's brother filed an FIR in September alleging that a Muslim boy from their neighbourhood had taken away his sister in February, converted her and forced her to stay with the boy.

He says that his sister came home just a few days earlier, complaining of domestic violence and death threats and that they use casteist slurs against her.

We were told that the girl is no longer in Kanpur and that she is staying with family in their village. When we spoke to her over the phone, she corroborated the allegations in the FIR.

She said that she had gone with the boy, because he had threatened her and that she was forcibly converted and made to do a Nikah as well.

"I had nothing to do with him. He was just from my locality," she says when asked if they had been in a relationship.

But the Muslim boy's family assert the girl is not a minor and she had come to their home of her own free will.

The boy's mother says that they had been in love with each other for three years and that everybody in the neighbourhood was aware. She said that it was after the girl's aunt started visiting at their home, that the girl changed her mind.

The boy's family also shared documents of their court marriage held in February, which states that the girl is 18. His mother also claims that one of the witnesses was in fact the girl's aunt.

Their neighbours, who are Hindus as well, support this version of events. They say that the girl had been happy when she was staying at the boy's home and that the Bajrang Dal may have been involved in getting the case filed.

They cite a story that appeared in the Hindi daily, Amar Ujala, on September 4, 2020, which says "the girl's brother reached the police station with Bajrang Dal workers on Wednesday and got a report filed".

Moreover, when we tried contacting the girl's brother who is currently in Maharashtra, he directed us towards the Bajrang Dal's Kanpur district convenor, Amarnath Verma saying that he was in fact overseeing the case.

Mr Verma said that they were supporting the family, and helped at the time of getting police complaint registered. He said they had supported them morally and even encouraged the brother to file the complaint.

The sequence of events in fact shows how the Yogi Adityanath government, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal appear to have acted in tandem in getting an SIT formed to investigate these cases of inter-faith relationships.

Five days after Adityanath's media adviser tweeted the Shalini Yadav video, the VHP met and submitted a memorandum to top police officials in Kanpur on August 25, demanding they take the strict action against those who indulge in "Love Jihad".

They ended with a warning that if the incidents did not stop "the Bajrang Dal will do the job of teaching these anti-social, anti-national elements a lesson".

However, instead of acting against an open threat of vigilante violence, the SIT was formed four days later on August 29.

Mohit Agarwal, the Kanpur Inspector General, denied any influence of Sangh Parivar groups when asked.

"Many people had come with (the parents of the girls). Now don't know which organisation or community they were from... This is mainly based on the parents' demands," he said.

The VHP, however, claimed otherwise.

Deen Dayal Gaur, the Kanpur Zone Joint secretary of the VHP who had also signed the memorandum, said they had met the top police officials, and that they keep meeting them.

He also said that they would be meeting the police again in November to find out more about what happened.