Over a month after a 23-year-old was allegedly abducted while walking along with her husband outside a mall in Vashi in Mumbai, the Navi Mumbai police on Thursday arrested a Bajrang Dal activist. Sunil Pumpwell, an autorickshaw driver, reportedly carried out the abduction at the behest of the woman’s Mangalore-based parents, who are opposed to her marriage with a Muslim man.
The whereabouts of V K Reshma, however, remain unknown, with husband Mohammed Iqbal Chaudhury, 23, filing a habeas corpus petition in the Bombay High Court late last month. The court had asked police to investigate the matter, leading to the arrest of Pumpwell, who also belongs to Mangalore, on January 18.
The marriage of Reshma and Chaudhury had been dubbed a case of ‘love jihad’, with Chaudhury projected as a Muslim radical by right-wing groups in Mangalore. Last month, days after Reshma went missing, the Bajrang Dal convenor in Mangalore, Sharan Pumpwell, had petitioned Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman seeking an NIA probe in the matter. As per an FIR filed by Chaudhury, four men had attacked him and Reshma on December 17, 2017, at Vashi, hit him and taken away Reshma. He said the men told him, “You have taken our sister.”
In response, Reshma’s parents provided an affidavit dated December 20 to the Mumbai police containing a statement from their daughter which said she had returned home of her own will and was under no coercion. A few days later, Chaudhury again approached police saying Reshma had called him on December 24, saying she was being held captive at a relative’s home in Kerala and wasn’t sure of the location. He sought police help to trace the mobile number from which the call was made.
With no progress in the case, he approached the Bombay High Court on December 28, claiming he had complained to Mankhurd police multiple times fearing that his wife would be pressured to return to her parents’ home in Mangalore and that they were being threatened. He approached the court in January again about the call he received from Reshma.
Following court order to investigate the call, police first arrested a Mankhurd resident, Manoj Karotia. His interrogation led to the arrest of Pumpwell, police said. Chaudhury is an assistant engineer, based in the Mankhurd suburb of eastern Mumbai. Reshma, a final-year student at SDM Law College in Mangalore and the daughter of a businessman from Kasargod, who had been living in Qatar for many years, met Chaudhury on social media in 2016. They fell in love over a period of time and began meeting each other.
When the couple expressed a wish to marry, their parents opposed it. However, while Chaudhury’s family consented after a while, Reshma’s didn’t. Last year, Reshma eloped with Chaudhury and the two got married on July 15, 2017.
In statements provided to police and the high court, Chaudhury said Reshma’s family continued to oppose the union. After she was “kidnapped”, he told the media that soon after their marriage, Reshma had filed a complaint against her father in Mumbai saying he was trying to kidnap her and take her to Kasargod.
He also released a letter she reportedly wrote to her parents at the time of her marriage, saying “I am going to marry my boyfriend. I love him and he also loves me. We are in love from past two years and I know him very well, he is from a good family.” Subsequently, Reshma’s parents made many efforts to break the marriage, including filing police complaints of kidnapping and robbery against her husband and her. In one complaint filed with the Mangalore East police station, her parents said she had been abducted.
Police sources said that when they tracked her down, she refused to go back home and stated that she had married Chaudhury of her own volition and intended to live with him. In a second complaint, again with the Mangalore East police station, Reshma’s family accused her of taking away gold and a laptop when she left home. Police dropped this case after Reshma wrote to the Mangalore police commissioner saying she was being harassed by police. Chaudhury has told police that even after this, people sent by Reshma’s parents kept a constant watch on them.