Seoni-Malwa,a town of under 1 lakh people in Hoshangabad district,is Madhya Pradeshs communal hotbed. Riots had erupted over a banana stolen from the handcart of a street vendor a decade ago. And yet,its here that 31-year-old Durgesh and 23-year-old Shaheen fell in love,and where they decided to spend the rest of their lives.
None belong to Seoni-Malwa,though. Durgeshs village,Bheronpura,is 10 km away,and Shaheens parental home is in Manjarkui village,40 km away,in nearby Sehore district. Five years ago,Durgesh,an autorickshaw driver,was employed as a chauffeur with a neighbour of Shaheens uncle. Shaheen,a teenager then,frequently visited her uncle. They met,fell in love,and thus began their courtship.
I proposed to her but she kept me waiting for a long time, says Durgesh,sitting on a charpoy with Shaheen,now Sheela,and their two children,in a spartan,rented home. Shaheen feared persecution by her family members,except her mother. So,the two eloped to Pune,where they spent three months in hiding before the MP police tracked Durgesh through his mobile number,and informed Shaheens uncle of his whereabouts. The Maharashtra Police advised the couple to ask for protection. So,the MP police deployed four constables to accompany Durgesh and Shaheen on their way back to Seoni-Malwa. Otherwise,her uncle would have pushed me out of the train, says Durgesh.
After they arrived in Seoni-Malwa,Durgesh spent a fortnight in jail. The police had charged him with abducting and raping the minor Shaheen,on a complaint filed by her family. It was only when Shaheen deposed before a court that she was a major and had willingly accompanied Durgesh that the case fell through,on the day of third hearing,nearly three months after the trial began in court.
Shaheens mother was the only one in her family who supported her relationship with Durgesh. Had it not been for my mother,we would not be together, she says of Najma,who paid a heavy price for standing by her daughter. My father divorced her but she did not budge. Najma now lives alone in Seoni-Malwa making ends meet by selling odd things,and visits the couple regularly.
The couple married at an Arya Samaj temple,and except two or three relatives from the boys family,who reluctantly agreed to their marriage,none bothered to attend. Though Durgesh says his family has finally accepted the marriage,it has not helped Shaheens cause. His mother and other relatives haven’t invited her even once to the village. She is bitter about the cold reception but does not say so. He goes to his relatives once in a while but leaves Shaheen behind.