Updated: June 23, 2018 7:49:50 pm
Every Jamai Shasthi (a popular festival in Bengal dedicated to sons-in-law), 5, Bhuban Dhar Lane in North Kolkata bustles with activity. This year, it was no different. On Tuesday, the celebrations in this yellowing old house, which belongs to former Hindu Samhati president and controversial right-wing leader Tapan Ghosh, were unlike any other in the city. Over the years, Ghosh has “facilitated” several marriages between Muslim girls and their Hindu beaus, and these couples, often estranged from their own families, throng his house each year to celebrate the occasion.
On Tuesday, a string of such couples arrives at Ghosh’s home bearing gifts — packets of fresh mangoes and boxes of sweetmeats. “Jamai Shashthi for me is finding a place I can call home,” says Rina (23), who had eloped with her boyfriend. Ghosh helped her convert to Hinduism before she married, she says.
“While Bengal celebrates Jamai Shasthi, we celebrate ‘Mey (daughter) Shasthi’. It’s about embracing love. Most of them are not in touch with their parents and hence treat me like their father. They treat my house as their maternal home. They call me whenever there are fights between them and their husbands and any other marital issue. I have strict guidelines for all men to keep their wives happy and safe. I have also told all my daughters to inform me if their husbands ever verbally or physically abuse them,” says Ghosh as the couples sit down for a feast. He claims that since he set up the Hindu Samhati in 2006, they have helped facilitate the marriages of 300 Muslim women to Hindu youths.
The couples sit on floor mats as large bowls full of fragrant, steamed rice are placed in the middle, surrounded by several smaller bowls containing other delicacies. Soon after, traditional Bengali dishes come in one by one — katla fish curry, fried rui fish and desserts like mishti doi, rosogolla, payesh and sandesh.
Among the visitors at Ghosh’s house are Rina and Dipankar. While studying together in school and college, they were best friends. After graduating, they kept in touch through messages and one day, Dipankar professed his love. Rina said she felt there was no happy ending to their inter-religious romance and they ended matters there, only to resume their relationship soon after. Dipankar was introduced to the Hindu Samhati and Ghosh through a friend. “He helped us, and we tied the knot in June 2016 at Kalighat. We had a court marriage and I later filed an affidavit and changed my surname. We stayed in this house for 17 days after our marriage for safety,” says Rina, who is now estranged from her family. “We visit Baba’s (Ghosh) house whenever I miss home. Dipankar is Bengali so we come here to celebrate Jamai Shasthi together. It is like a homecoming, meeting sisters and brothers-in-law.”
Like Rina and Dipankar, 13 other couples were part of Tuesday’s celebration. Nandini (30) also married against her parents’ wishes. A resident of South 24 Parganas, she was a school teacher when she married Babloo. It’s been six years since then, but her parents have yet to accept their marriage. “My parents are educated, so they knew they couldn’t do much legally as we were adults when we got married. My father had just told me that whatever happens, I will be never allowed in their home. So whenever I feel homesick and my son wants to visit his grandparents, I bring him to meet ‘Baba’. I stay with my in-laws. They are still uncomfortable about me belonging to another religion, but it doesn’t bother me anymore,” she says.
Asked why they converted to their spouse’s religion after marriage, one of the women says, “For social acceptance.”
A few couples who live outside Kolkata also join the celebration through video calls. “Whenever they are in the city, they visit me. I feel I have a responsibility towards them. While many of their parents still have grudges against me, some have accepted the marriages of their children and share a good relationship with me as well. My house was once attacked and searched when the daughter of a renowned Muslim businessman from Lakshmikantapur had taken shelter at my house. They have become a part of my life and we enjoy this festival together,” says Ghosh.
In February this year, Ghosh and other members of Hindu Samhati had given a call of “ghar wapsi” — to “reconvert” Muslims — and presented 14 members of a Muslim family who they claimed had “returned” to the Hindu fold at a rally in Kolkata. They were later booked for allegedly assaulting journalists who tried to pose questions to the family during the rally, and were sent to judicial custody by a Bankshall court after their custody ended. At the rally, Ghosh had allegedly delivered a provocative speech against Muslims. “Let us take a pledge for ghar wapsi. I appeal to our Muslim brothers and sisters, who were forced to give up their original faith, to return home, and once again embrace Hinduism,” he had said.
Earlier this month, Ghosh had announced that he would soon begin a ‘ghar wapsi’ programme under his ‘Deogarh project’’ to bring Muslims into the Hindu fold in Jharkhand. “We are still figuring out how to do this. But one thing we will initiate is the concept of daawats that the Muslims use when they want to convert a community. The community is invited for feasts and we will also do this,’’ Ghosh had said.
The Hindu Samhati founder said his is an “anti love-jihad” movement, under which most Muslim women who married Hindu youths are given a “shuddhikaran certificate” by Bharat Sevashram Sangha after a “yagya”, and an affidavit in the court of the judicial magistrate desiring to accept and adopt the Hindu religion.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.