More than a month after Shamli simmered with communal tension, when a mahapanchayat labelled the elopement of a 23-year-old Hindu woman with a married Muslim man “love jihad”, the couple and their families are straining to battle the past and build a new life.
At Shamli’s Kandhla, members of Mohammad Asif’s family, who had been on the run after being accused in a police complaint of abduction, are back home but have suffered “irreparable losses”. In Delhi, where the couple moved to, Aksa Rani, formerly Anjali Saini, says she is “very content” but still faces harassment from her family.
At their Kandhla home, Asif’s mother Mehrunisa said, “We had to be on the run for a month as members of our family were constantly being picked up for interrogation. Aksa had left a note at home saying that she had voluntarily left home and wanted to be with Asif but her family hid the letter and filed a false complaint. Even we had no idea of the affair nor did we approve of it. Asif was already married and has three children.”
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Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Delhi, Aksa, 23, said her “family and community” had made her marriage “a prestige issue”. “They are still harassing me and my in-laws and have been insisting I leave Asif. They say it has brought them bad name. But Asif and I are very happy and don’t want to go back home. We have found a job in Delhi,” she said.
Asif, 35, was married with three children, when he shifted to a house rented out by Aksa’s family. In September, after nikaah in Shamli, Aksa converted but could not break the news to her family. In December when she ran away with Asif, her family lodged a complaint against Asif and his family alleging that he had abducted her.
On December 25, a maha panchayat was held, where a local godman Acharya Jasveer Maharaj allegedly gave an inflammatory speech in the presence of BJP MP Hukum Singh, BJP MLA Suresh Rana, a local Congress leader, and VHP and Bajrang Dal activists. As communal tension escalated, Asif and Aksa were traced in Delhi living together. Police took them back to Kandhla, taking into custody Asif and his brother Arshad, but Aksa deposed in court in favour of her husband and refused to return to her paternal house.
Today, Asif’s family, who runs a departmental store in a space rented out by those linked to Aksa’s family, says they are paying the price for the elopement. “We had paid a hefty advance for the shop but the person with whom we had the agreement has died and his family is now forcing us to vacate the space. How do we move out? Where will we get money for advance to hire another shop? The store is, anyway, not making enough profits and that is why Asif was planning to go to Delhi and find a job. To top it all, we had to be on the run for a month and had no income then,” said Asif’s father Mohd Islam.
“We have been hearing talk of love jihad. Had it been so, even we would have encouraged Asif and supported him through this. But we were also very annoyed with him. We came around only when Aksa deposed in court in our favour. She saved our lives and we owe it to her. When her family has turned against her, how can we let go of her now?”
Aksa’s family has snapped all ties with her and refuses to speak about her. “She is dead for us. She chose to walk out and that is the end of it all. We do not know where she is and have nothing to do with her any longer,” said Archana Saini, Aksa’s aunt.
The SP of Shamli, Vijay Bhushan, said officials are moving to punish those who fanned communal passions. “There are no pending cases against Asif or his family. After the girl deposed in court in his favour there was nothing left to be done. However, the charges against Acharya Jasveer Maharaj have been proven and he has been lodged in jail since December 25 and according to law is likely to remain in custody at least for a year. The district magistrate and I had requested that the NSA be imposed on him and hearings are very rigorous on this,” he said.
Bhushan added Kandhla had been increasingly facing communal issues over the past months. “On Monday night, a Hindu girl eloped with her uncle but a complaint was filed against some residents of the minority community. Such lawlessness has been rampant in Kandhla lately,” Bhushan said.