Iqbal Chaudhary, 28, spends every spare minute trying to make a call. Both his phones are always switched on and he checks each frequently for any update, a call or a message from his wife Reshma, 23.
Chaudhary alleges that Reshma was abducted from Vashi in Navi Mumbai in December; he has moved a habeas corpus petition in Bombay High Court saying she had been kidnapped by members of her family because their marriage was inter-faith.
Reshma appeared in court on January 22. She told the court that day that she would return to her in-laws’ home within a week, but is yet to do so. She added that she went with her family of her own will.
“I was so relieved to see her there… I didn’t care where we were, I just wanted to speak to her,” Chaudhary tells The Indian Express, seated in his home in Mankhurd, suburban Mumbai.
Reshma, of Kasargod in Kerala, was studying in Mangaluru when she and Chaudhary met, on Facebook. Chaudhary would travel to Mangaluru to meet her, and eventually the two decided to elope. “In July 2016, we posted two letters, one to her family and one to the police station, saying she was going away on her own and as an adult she could marry me. We did not leave behind an address, anticipating the trouble that would definitely follow,” says Chaudhary, who works as an assistant engineer with a private firm.
Iqbal’s mother Saidunnisa Chaudhary, 56, describes it as a day she will never forget. “We had been trying to arrange Iqbal’s marriage but he would say no. From his siblings, we knew he was talking to some girl. But when he brought her home, I was shocked,” she says.
Saidunnisa’s first thought was that Reshma should return home. “I told her, beti, go back to your parents. Don’t do anything stupid. However, she said that she loved my son and wouldn’t live without him. Iqbal also said he’d marry only her. So I gave my consent,” she recounts.
Reshma converted to Islam and married Iqbal on July 14, 2016.
A mother to six sons and four daughter, Saidunnisa knew this wouldn’t be simple. “I asked her to call her parents after their wedding. Her family members came with the police,” she says. “I am a mother, I know how her mother might feel. I used to ask Reshma to call them daily. But they were so against the marriage that they refused to speak to her.”
The fourth son among the 10 siblings, Chaudhary says perhaps some of his own siblings didn’t approve of his decision, but they did not stop him. “My family has accepted her as a member,” he says.
The alleged abduction took place nearly one-and-a-half years later. According to the habeas corpus petition, Reshma was abducted by four men outside a mall in Vashi on December 17, 2017, while he himself was assaulted. An FIR was lodged at the Vashi police station for abduction and assault. Chaudhary later wrote to the police again, saying he had a call on December 24 from his wife, who reportedly said she had been kidnapped by her family and was being kept in Kerala.
“Some policemen asked me about love jihad and asked if I knew Zakir Naik. I realised then that I will have to approach the judiciary,” he says.
On December 22, his lawyer Hasnain Kazi filed the habeas corpus petition. A division bench of Justices B R Gavai and B P Colabawalla directed the police to investigate the case and also the number from which Chaudhary had claimed to have received a call from his wife.
On January 22, Reshma came to the court and said that she had gone with her family of her own will. She also added that although she and her husband were attacked on December 17 and she was taken to her family, after that she went with them of her own will.
Advocate Sanjeev Punalekar, who represented Reshma, told The Indian Express, “If the woman was wrongfully confined, she would have raised her voice. However, she has not and she has said that she went of her free will. The husband is just trying to create problems. Anyway, the woman will come to court on February 7 and she will herself declare if she wants to stay with him or not.”
He added, “This is simply a case of marital discord and not abduction or wrongful confinement. He is trying to brainwash the woman.”