New Delhi, India – Indian police stopped an interfaith marriage in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday despite the consent of both families, saying they would have to seek permission of officials as part of a new anti-conversion law passed last week.
The wedding of Raina Gupta, 22, and Mohammad Asif, 24, was supposed to take place on Wednesday in the Para area of the state capital, Lucknow. The preparations were under way but before the ceremonies could begin, a police team intervened and stopped the wedding, following a complaint by a local Hindu right-wing leader, local media reported.
No case was lodged as both families agreed to postpone the wedding until they received the district magistrate’s permission, as mandated by the new law aimed at curbing forced conversion by marriage.
The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) describes such marriages as “love jihad”, an unproven conspiracy theory used by its leaders and Hindu far-right groups to accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by marriage.
Gupta and Asif now have to wait for two months to get married.
“According to the new law, in interfaith marriages, it should be made clear henceforth that there is consent from either side prior to the wedding so that later there is no pressure and no scope for blame that forced conversion has taken place,” said Triloki Singh, an Uttar Pradesh police official.
Singh confirmed to Al Jazeera that the wedding, which the Uttar Pradesh police stopped, had consent not only from the bride and the groom but also from their families. “Yes, there was consent,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, which was cleared by the state cabinet last week, makes religious conversion an offence, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison if found to be effected for marriage or through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or other allegedly fraudulent means.
An Indian news agency quoted Vijay Gupta, the bride’s father, saying that there was no forced religious conversion for the marriage and that both families had unconditionally given their consent to the union.
“I was unaware, until the police told us, that even after consent from all the parties, an interfaith marriage can be held only with the district magistrate’s approval,” he told IANS.
On Wednesday, a 21-year-old Muslim man was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police under the new law, the first such arrest.
Critics say the law is to target Muslims and undermines women’s agency and their right to decide who they wish to marry.
Kavita Krishnan, an activist and secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, told Al Jazeera that the law is nothing but “a government-sponsored honour crime”.
“It’s a law in which you are attacking love, attacking a woman’s right to love, attacking a woman’s right to marry and deciding who she should marry – that is the real nature of the law which is why it is a government-sponsored honour crime,” Krishnan said, adding that if the law claims to protect women’s rights, then women should be able to file complaints themselves.
The BJP spokesperson Syed Zafar Islam, however, defended the law saying his party is not against interfaith marriage but against forced conversion within interfaith marriages.
Islam said that those who want to marry a person of another faith, have to “follow certain compliances”.
“They have to ensure that it’s not a forced conversion and no one has actually converted their religion based on any pressure,” he said.