In a significant development concerning a reported case of Love Jihad and forceful conversion in the Rahuri region of Ahmednagar district in August 2023, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has taken action against the state government for alleged inaction against the accused individuals. NCPCR Chairperson Priyank Kanoongo has issued summons to the Additional Chief Secretary of the state Home Department, demanding their personal appearance on December 13 to submit a comprehensive action taken report in the case.
The notice has been invoked under sections 13 and 14 of the Commission for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005. According to the official letter, the matter was initially brought to the attention of the Chief Secretary of the Government of Maharashtra in October 2023, who was expected to furnish the action taken report within seven days. However, the case was subsequently transferred to the home department.
The letter addressed to the Additional Chief Secretary of the state Home Department states, “Thereafter the matter is pending with the Home Department. The Commission, in pursuance of the functions and powers under sections 13 and 14 of the CPCR Act 2005, directs you to appear in person before the Commission on 13th December along with the relevant documents.”
Earlier, on October 24, the NCPCR released its final fact-finding report, revealing gaps, lacunas, and anomalies in the local police investigation of the case. The Commission, dissatisfied with the local efforts, directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to take over the case. The investigation revolves around allegations that minor Hindu girls were ensnared by Muslim boys and their tuition teacher, Heena Pathan, who purportedly sought to convert the girls to Islam. This summons adds a new dimension to the ongoing saga, emphasising the urgency and gravity of the situation as it pertains to child rights and the larger issue of forced conversions.
Notably, an FIR was lodged by one of the minor girls from Rahuri in Ahmednagar against eight individuals, accusing them of trapping her in a love affair and coercing her into converting to Islam. (Read details in this report by Organiser)
The accused were identified as Avej Nisar Sheikh, Kaif Sheikh, Sohail Sheikh, Heena Pathan, Alisha Sheikh, Salim Pathan, Altaf Sheikh, and Shakir Sayyed. Notably, four of the accused, including two women, have already been arrested by the police. The remaining individuals face charges under sections 354, 354D, 109, and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, along with sections 8 and 12 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
However, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has expressed concern over the handling of the case by Ahmednagar Police. According to the NCPCR’s report, the police allegedly failed to collect crucial evidence after the minor girls filed complaints and tampered with the evidence provided by the victims and their families. The report states that the police formatted the phone of the primary accused, Avej, deleting all photos of the victim girls.
Moreover, the NCPCR highlighted a questionable tactic employed by the police, accusing them of filing a counter-case against several members of the Hindu community who protested against the accused boys. The commission has recommended a thorough investigation by an external agency, such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), given the inadequacies in the police inquiry. (Another report on this case by Organiser can be read here)
The NCPCR has taken a decisive step by suggesting the prompt removal of the Superintendent of Police (SP), Additional SP, and Station House Officer (SHO) from Ahmednagar Police. This recommendation stands until the conclusion of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) investigation into the case. The NCPCR alleges that these officers conducted lax, improper, and misguided investigations.
The case at the center of this controversy involves Hindu minor girls from Rahuri, Ahmednagar, who assert in their First Information Report (FIR) that they faced harassment and coercion into religious conversion by their tuition teacher, Heena Pathan, and her purported ‘relative,’ Avej Sheikh. The victims detailed that they enrolled in Pathan’s tuition classes in 2021, continuing until the true nature of the accused teacher was revealed.
During the investigation, it was uncovered that the accused teacher, Heena Pathan, permitted her ‘relatives’—Avej, Sohail, Kaif, and Nisar—from her community to enter the tuition classes and allowed them to gather around in the presence of Hindu girls. She urged the girls to befriend the boys and communicate exclusively in Hindi. Notably, Hindi is not the local language in Maharashtra, where Marathi is predominantly spoken. Heena insisted that speaking Hindi was a cultural and religious norm among Muslims.
According to the victim’s complaint, the accused boys had no connection to the tuition but were permitted to sit with the girls, thanks to Heena Pathan’s authorisation. The teacher also instructed the girls to adopt Muslim customs, including wearing burqas, and discouraged the use of bangles and kumkum on their foreheads.
The revelation of this incident occurred when one of the victims bravely stepped forward to file a police complaint against Avej and the tuition teacher. The complaint disclosed that Avej had ensnared numerous girls from his tuition, coercing them into marriage. The accused approached the girls at different times, and the victims were unaware of the manipulation until the exposure following the police case.
According to the complaint, the accused, Avej, employed cunning tactics to approach minor girls, engaging in sweet talk and gradually gaining their trust. Subsequently, he developed relationships with the girls and proposed marriage, suggesting they run away with him.
Disturbingly, the accused also subjected the minor girls to sexual assault, capturing compromising photos for blackmail purposes to force their conversion to Islam. In a sinister twist, Avej threatened the girls, warning them of dire consequences, including murder, if they disclosed the assaults.
As detailed in the FIR, Avej involved his sister, Alisha, to intervene and persuade one of the victim girls to accept his ‘love’ proposal. Alisha conveyed to the victim that Avej was deeply in love and desired marriage. Avej resorted to Instagram messages, blackmailing the victim with the threat of viralising her photos if she refused to engage with him. Additionally, he pressured the girl to convert to Islam and marry him, claiming that fellow accused individuals—Salim Pathan, Altaf Sheikh, and Shakir Sayyed—were aware of their ‘relation’ and ready to provide support post-conversion.
Fearing the situation, the victim sought help from Heena Pathan, the accused tuition teacher. However, Heena, purportedly favoring Avej, lauded Islam in the victim’s presence, urging her to comply with Avej’s proposals.
The victim further alleged that Alisha and Avej compelled her to wear a burqa and instructed her to emulate Muslim girls, revealing a pattern of coercion within the tuition. Reports indicate that three to four girls from the same tuition also accused Avej of trapping them in separate love affairs and coercing them into responding to his ‘proposals,’ ultimately leading to forced conversion.
This case exemplifies a concerning rise in incidents of love jihad in Maharashtra, where vulnerable Hindu girls, including minors, become targets. The victimised girls, often unheard, face additional challenges when the accused individuals have connections with influential figures. Although the influential connections in this case remain unidentified, it appears that the accused enjoyed support from members of the Muslim community, offering him shelter and financial assistance to convert Hindu girls.