A 16-year-old Hindu boy who had allegedly run away with a girl was beaten up by a group of men in Madhya Pradesh's Dewas district allegedly on suspicion that it was a case of so-called 'love jihad', police said on Saturday.
No arrest has been made so far in connection with the incident which took place four days ago. Both the girl and the boy hail from Uttar Pradesh, police said.
A video of the incident also went viral on social media.
The boy had reportedly run away with the 12-year-old girl from Balia in Uttar Pradesh and police in Dewas had been alerted to look out for them, said an official.
A team of police personnel spotted them in a bus at Bhunsara toll booth, 17 km from Dewas city, said Sonkach area sub-divisional officer of police (SDOP) Prashant Singh Bhadoria.
Just as the police was taking them away, over a dozen men, who were apparently following the bus in two cars, appeared on the spot and set upon the boy, he said.
The video showed several men slapping, hitting and punching the boy even as the policemen tried to stop them.
The accused apparently thought that the boy was Muslim and had run away with a Hindu girl, said another police official. Both are in fact Hindu, he said.
"They thought it was a case of 'love jihad'. We were telling them that both were from the same community, but they didn't listen," he said, adding that if the boy had not been rescued by the police in time, he might not have survived.
'Love jihad' is a term used by some right-wing leaders who claim that there is a 'conspiracy' to lure Hindu girls and convert them to Islam through marriage.
The girl and the boy were taken to a safe place and later handed over to the Uttar Pradesh police, the SDOP said.
On Friday, Dewas district police registered a case against four men who were identified from the video, and 15 other unidentified persons under IPC sections 353 (use of criminal force on any person with a public servant in the execution of his duty as such public servant), 147 (rioting), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 294 (use of obscene word).
"We are trying to identify the other accused. As the charges against the accused are bailable and do not invite punishment of more than seven years, we are going to serve notice to them (before deciding on arrest)," SDOP Bhadoria said.