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SAMEER KHAN submitted their marriage documents, while Neelam Mehroliya told the court she wanted to live with him. Then, in an unusual turn of events, Mehroliya was taken separately to the judge’s chamber, as her parents and the government’s counsel argued that she was “confused”. Mehroliya emerged to declare she had changed her mind.
Over a fortnight later, Khan, 24, is looking at legal options to get his wife back, while Mehroliya’s parents, who had promised the court to treat her well, say they will never allow her to return to him. The parents have the support of the VHP, which has declared it a case of ‘love jihad’. VHP leader Prakash Khandelwal says, “We want to ensure that the alliance is broken.”
Government advocate Archana Kher, who was representing the Home Department in the habeas corpus case, doesn’t deny Mehroliya was prepared to go with Khan. She says Mehroliya expressed her wish thrice. However, Kher adds, they “counselled her for a long time” and told her the marriage would create “a law and order issue in Mhow”. When Khan countered, saying the two of them would move to Delhi, Kher says they warned Mehroliya she would have to spend her life in hiding. “You won’t be able to even see the sun.”
Kher believes Mehroliya changed her mind realising “that the marriage will create problems for both families”. As for the nikahnama, Kher says it “did not seem genuine because it was not dated”.
The court incidentally did not question the marriage documents submitted by Khan, saying he was “at liberty to take recourse to law” further.
Seated in a small restaurant in the Muslim-dominated Khajrana locality of Indore, Khan says he met Mehroliya through a common friend in 2015 in Mhow, where he works in a boutique. He claims she is a year younger, citing her marksheets; though her family insists she is 28. The Mhow cantonment town is about 30 km from Indore. They kept in touch over the phone, and met regularly, he says.
Khan, who has studied up to Class X, says he is a “designer” earning around Rs 15,000-Rs 20,000 a month. Mehroliya is a post-graduate in Commerce. But while her parents cited this disparity in education levels to argue they couldn’t be in love, Khan says this was never an issue for Mehroliya.
On September 3, 2017, the two of them eloped, and got married three days later. The guests included a handful of his friends and some relatives, Khan claims.
His mother Shabnam Khan says they weren’t present as they hadn’t been informed, and that they came to know of the marriage only when police landed at their doorstep. However, Shabnam adds, she has no problem with the wedding. “I will treat her just like my daughter. I am almost a half-Brahmin myself as I don’t like meat. She can wear saris, go to the temple…”
Shabnam says that the fact that Mehroliya chose to elope with her son meant she was in love with him. “She is educated and would have picked someone else otherwise.”
According to Khan, it was only for the nikah that Mehroliya took on a Muslim name, Zainab, and briefly wore a burqa. “I told her you can wear sari and kumkum and eat whatever you like. She was always Neelu for me, not even Neelam.”
After the wedding, they moved into a friend’s house in Indore. By then, Mehroliya’s family had lodged a missing person’s complaint with the Mhow Police Station. Khan alleges that police detained his relatives to trace the two of them, and that he got a call from them saying Mehroliya should appear and give her statement, and that she would be allowed to leave after that.
He says his friends dropped Mehroliya near the police station around 6 am on September 8, choosing the early hour to avoid attention. At the police station, Mehroliya gave a statement saying she would go with her parents. Khan says they had decided she would spend some time with her parents, to try bring them around, and then return.
In-charge of Mhow Police Station Chandrabhan Singh Chadar says they had no role to play once Mehroliya went to her parents willingly. “There was nothing to investigate. It’s a closed chapter for us.”
Khan says that after Mehroliya went home, all his attempts to contact her were blocked. In late January, he moved the Indore bench of the High Court, alleging that his wife had been kept in illegal detention and asking the court to unite them.
The Mehroliyas live in a small, three-room house in Mhow. When this reporter visited, they said Mehroliya was out of town because of a death in the family. Asked for her contact number, her father Laxman said she didn’t want to talk about the matter.
A retired junior Military Engineering Services official, he added that they went to police to get her back because of “tension after the news spread”. “We do not want her to go back to him. How can we? We rejected marriage proposals for her even from Hindu families because the (caste) did not match our specification. How can we even think of marrying her to a Muslim, that too an uneducated person without a steady income?”
Rejecting Khan’s version of how the two fell in love, the parents claim he faked his identity to befriend Mehroliya on Facebook. She is the most educated among her siblings — her two brothers, both school dropouts, work as drivers.
When they came to know of Mehroliya’s relationship with Khan, the parents add, they took her phone away and sent her to Indore to live with a relative, who works in the Police Department. While Khan was in the same city, they felt he wouldn’t dare meet her at a policeman’s house. However, after some time, Mehroliya managed to get in touch with Khan again.
Mehroliya’s family also claims to have never met Khan, though he says he went to them with a marriage proposal, but was turned away. Mehroliya’s elder sibling Ravi also questions Khan’s claim of a nikah, insisting that the papers submitted by him in court were forged.
When Mehroliya was produced before the Indore bench of the High Court on February 26, she initially told the judge she wanted to go back to Khan, adding that her only condition was that he should not marry again and that she wouldn’t change her name. Khan says Mehroliya was brainwashed to make those demands, and adds that as these were inconsequential for him, he readily agreed.
Then, advocates representing Mehroliya’s parents and the government argued that Mehroliya was confused and should be heard in the judge’s chamber. Only she and the advocates were allowed inside. When the court again met, Mehroliya said she wanted to remain with her parents.
Says government advocate Kher, “We convinced her that the marriage wouldn’t do any good for her. We told her to stand on her own feet, find a job and wait a year or two. And that if the boy (Khan) waited for her, she would know (if he loved her).”
While sending Mehroliya with her parents, Judge J K Maheshwari ruled that Khan’s claim that she was in illegal detention didn’t hold. The judge also noted that Mehroliya had “previously (been) in association with the petitioner (Khan) for some time”, and asked her parents to maintain “a good atmosphere at home”, “so that the girl may adjust herself… and may live happily”.
Since the family claims there was no nikah, Indira says their plan is to marry off Mehroliya quickly. “We are not interested in pursuing the case or sending Khan to jail because then the case will linger on. The matter has come to an end for us after the court order.”
Khan alleges he has been getting death threats from unknown phone numbers asking him to stay away from Mehroliya. He also accuses her parents of torturing her, and says she has sent him photographs and audio messages testifying to the same. However, he has not gone to police on either matter to avoid more infamy, he says. “They wrongly call our marriage ‘love jihad’. ‘Love jihad’ is when you lie about yourself to marry. I told her everything upfront.”
Clinging onto hope, he adds, “She is under constant pressure to level accusations against me. I could have been arrested long back… I am not in jail, I am moving around freely. Is it not proof that she is in love with me?”