Four members of a family who have converted to Islam were arrested last night in Madhya Pradesh, hours after they told a court that they had not been forced into adopting another religion. Seven others have been held for questioning.
Tularam Jatav, his son Keshav and relatives Manikram and Makhubhai Jatav were arrested on Wednesday under the state’s Freedom of Religion Act, which allows conversions only if the district administration has verified that they are not forced. Those wanting to change their religion have to seek the state’s permission.
All four, if found guilty, face two years in jail.
On Tuesday, when the Jatav family went to a district magistrate with affidavits affirming that they were converting willingly, a large group of activists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal arrived too, and started protesting and chanting slogans. Later, an FIR was filed against the Jatavs and a team was sent to their house.
The VHP and Bajrang Dal are both part of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-led pro-Hindu conglomerate that includes the state’s ruling BJP.
Officials say the Jatavs appear to have violated the law, as the probe team had learnt that they had switched to Islam months ago without informing the government.
Tularam Jatav reportedly converted to Islam two years ago, but retracted the move to settle a property dispute. Last year, he reportedly converted to Islam again, this time along with his son and two relatives. Others in their village went to the police on August 28 and alleged that forced conversions were taking place in the family. The Jatavs denied it twice, but yesterday, shortly after they tried to submit affidavits in a court, they were held.
“We have not been forced to convert; we were inspired by the teachings of Islam. This is an unnecessary controversy,” said Keshav Jatav, before being taken into custody.
A police team will now investigate the villagers’ allegation.