Mohammed Idrees’s small home in Bhaura Khurd village, Muzaffarnagar, was teeming with guests last Friday. His 17-year-old daughter Israna was getting engaged to a distant cousin, and the two were set to get married after Eid. Relatives from nearby villages had stayed over for the ceremony.
Idrees, and his family of six, including Israna, too had come to their Bhaura Khurd home a week earlier from Pundri town in Kaithal district, Haryana. Idrees and his family had left their Muzaffarnagar village in the wake of the 2013 communal riots “out of fear” and shifted to Pundri, where he pulls a vegetable cart for a living. Bhaura Khurd, where Muslims form 5 per cent of the 3,500 resident families, was not hit by riots, though it’s on the fringes of the worst-affected village, Fugana.
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“Israna looked quite happy that day,” says Idrees, who spent about Rs 22,000 on her engagement and Rs 25,000 earlier to remove a tuberculosis-induced boil below her collar bone. Barely three days after her engagement, though, Israna, along with one Rajneesh Kumar, was found hanging from the branch of a leafless neem tree in the village. The two were hanging by the opposite ends of Israna’s dupatta and their bodies were facing each other. Israna was wearing a mangalsutra and a dash of sindoor on her hair parting.
A tube of sindoor paste, a pack of bindis, an empty wrapper of imitation jewellery and a lipstick lay atop a pile of dried dung cakes in a room right next to the neem tree. Were Israna and Rajneesh in love, and had they eloped to get married? “The families deny any knowledge of love between the two, but villagers say they were in a relationship for the last five years,” says Rajeev Gupta, SHO of Bhauri Kala police station.
The post-mortem report of the two concluded that the deaths occurred due to hanging “but we will trace call records of the three mobile phones recovered from the pocket of Rajneesh’s trousers in order to probe other angles,” says Gupta. No police has been deployed in the village as “there is no communal tension because of the deaths”, he adds.
At Israna’s home, several men sit on a charpoy with Idrees, who says he “had no idea about Israna’s relationship with Rajneesh”. A quiet, reserved girl, Israna had studied till Class V, and would cook and clean at home. Her mother feeds buffaloes and dries dung cakes outside, while a younger brother goes to school. Another brother works in Ludhiana as a tailor, and a sister is married and lives in Dadri. “She had not shared with anyone in the family what was in her heart,” says Jaibun, her mother. Once though, long back, Idrees was “informed about a rumour about her affair with a village boy”.
“I immediately scolded and beat her then,” he says. His daughter, he adds, “was at fault”. “A boy cannot fall for a girl unless she lets him. I have no one else to blame,” he says, adding he would have “never allowed Israna to marry outside the community”.
Rajneesh’s father Ram Kumar, too, is adamant he “would have never let him marry a Muslim”. “But now that he is dead, I cannot even get angry at him. What can you do when your own son has done wrong,” he says. Like Idrees, Kumar claims he “had no idea about Rajneesh’s relationship with Israna”.
Rajneesh, 21, was the “pride” of his Dalit family. Kumar, an illiterate farmer who owns five-seven bighas of land and a much larger house than Idrees, had ensured that all his four children study at least up to graduation. Rajneesh, the eldest, had trained in ITI after his Intermediate, and was doing BA. Six months ago, he had moved to Rohtak, Haryana, to work as a salesman in an LG showroom for a salary of Rs 9,000 a month. He had arrived in his village on Sunday to sit for an exam on Tuesday. “But Monday 5.30 am, as I was cutting wheat in the fields, my nephew came running to inform me of Rajneesh’s death. I, along with the girl’s father — whom I barely know — immediately informed the police,” says Kumar. Like Israna, Rajneesh had “not shared his love story” with his siblings — a brother who is doing BCA, and two sisters who are doing BA.
His cousin Sudhir Kumar, though, says he had “seen Israna smiling coyly whenever Rajneesh would pass by her on his cycle”. “But the glances were always from her side, not his,” Sudhir quickly adds.
Villagers say the families are “lying”. “Of course, they were going around for five-six years. Everyone knew it. And so did their families,” says one youth who didn’t give his name. Others agree, but none gives details of the “love story”. Charan Singh, a village elder, thinks it’s “a case of honour killing”. “I saw them hanging. The dupatta held them by their chins, not their necks, which suggests that someone hung them. It suits the families and the police to treat this as suicide and close the case,” he says.
SHO Gupta says “the families are not interested in pursuing the case”. “Both have readily accepted it as a case of suicide. They have not bothered to ask us to investigate. But once we get Rajneesh’s call records, we may call them for questioning,” he says.