About 200 km from Lucknow, in a remote village in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, villagers talk about “a bhayanak (scary) love story that has left behind even Heer-Ranjha”. What has them stunned is that the one taking the lead in this tale is a 16-year-old girl — fighting to uphold her “marriage” to a 20-year-old against their families, village, and the government, all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Three months after the girl and the 20-year-old got married in the verandah of his house, the youth says he has left everything up to her. “She is adamant and I trust and believe that she will not change her statement. We have married as per Islam and in front of elders. The rest is on Allah.”
The village dominated by upper-caste Muslims, mostly Sheikhs and Pathans, agrees that under the Shariah law that allows marriage on attaining puberty, their wedding is valid, but adds that it is the first such case in their memory.
On June 22, around 11 pm, the couple are said to have summoned a maulvi from a neighbouring village to conduct the nikah. The maulvi was known to them as he held classes in the village. The next day, the girl’s father lodged an FIR against the 20-year-old, his father and their neighbours, under IPC sections covering kidnapping and inducement of a woman to compel marriage.
Sub-Inspector Shailendra Yadav, the Investigating Officer in the case, says, “We produced the girl before a magistrate. She refused to go back to her family and, since she was a minor, she was sent to the Nari Niketan on July 3 on the orders of the magistrate.”
The youth went to the high court, alleging that the girl was being detained against her will. “After the court rejected their plea saying the girl is a minor, they approached the Supreme Court,” the S-I says. As per general law, a girl has to be at least 18 and the groom 21 to be eligible for marriage.
Senior advocate and All India Muslim Personal Law Board secretary Zafaryab Jilani says, “If a girl and boy are minors, then the consent of parents is required. But if they are major, then they can decide to continue or end their marriage. However, the definition of ‘major’ or being ‘baalig’ is different here (in Muslim law) as it is linked to puberty.”
Cases like these arise when a marriage takes place without the consent of parents, Jilani says, adding that whenever these have been taken to court, it has generally ruled in favour of the girl.
In tears, the girl’s mother accuses her of bringing “bad name” to the family and leaving her father in shock. “How can a young girl like her decide her future? Don’t we have a say?” says the 45-year-old, who also has two sons, both elder to the 16-year-old. “They (the youth’s family) have brainwashed my daughter and that is why she is speaking their language.”
But, in the village, they talk of a girl, barely literate, who knew her mind.
The villagers say that after she came to the house of the youth in June and the two expressed their intention to get married, they tried to send her back to her family twice to avoid any tension, but she threatened to poison herself. Adds the father of the 20-year-old, “She claimed her family would marry her to an elderly person who already had children or kill her, if she was sent back.” He says she bore injury marks indicating she had been beaten up.
Villagers also admit that apart from the question of “honour”, the two families have a land dispute going back a decade. The youth’s family says the other side is lashing back as it had lost the land. Denying this, her uncle says, “It was years back, there is no such issue now. It is just that we do not want our girl to go to that house.”
Listening impassively to the conversation as he sits outside his un-plastered house, the youth, his hair dyed red, says he and the girl met about two years back. Having studied up to Class 9 in a local private school, the youth helps out his father in farming. “Her house is opposite my maternal grandmother’s. We exchanged mobile numbers and started having long conversations,” he says. Eyes glued to his mehndi-coloured hands, with English letters of her name hidden in the design, as a groom would do at a wedding, he says he put the henna on for “good luck”.
The girl’s father is also a farmer, while her elder brothers work as labourers in Mumbai and Delhi. The family denies her claim that they were trying to marry her off, adding that she made that up under duress and asking why the nikah was held at 11 in the night without any witnesses from their side. The village pradhan says, “We had informed the family members of the girl. Pathans and Sheikhs marry into each other’s families and most of us are related. But none from the girl’s side came.”
The girl’s mother adds that she doesn’t understand why the 20-year-old is at home while the girl has been taken away. “Last we heard she was at a Nari Niketan in some other district… Why is she being punished? She does not understand what is good for her, and wants law to do justice for her.”
The girl’s cousin, who lives nearby, says, “It is true that Shariah law allows one to marry after puberty, but we live in this country and the country’s law also matters.”
The family adds that whatever the outcome, she should have security if she returns. “What if she does something untoward?” says the girl’s uncle.
In this, the youth’s family agrees with them. Says the 20-year-old’s father, “We are ready to keep her, but fear that her family might do something. She should be guarded.”