In a state where both caste and religion matter, a number of Dalit women married to Muslims won from seats reserved for scheduled-caste women in the recent panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh, including one in communally sensitive Muzaffarnagar.
Now these winners are vying for the zila panchayat chairperson’s post, which too is reserved for scheduled caste women in these districts.
All the couples have their marriage registered with district authorities.
Bijnor district tops the list with three such couples. Here Sunita a.k.a. Sitara, married to Mohammad Hussain, won from Mohammadpur Devmal III ward. The two fell in love and got married in 2009. Hussain says their families have accepted their marriage. About Sitara’s win, he says, “She contested for the first time and won because people from all religions supported her.”
Another Dalit woman, Soni, emerged victorious from Najibabad-II ward in the district. She is married to Shahabuddin since 2007 and, according to him, she practises Hinduism. Shakuntala, the winner from Najibabad-I, is married to Latif.
In Muzaffarnagar district, Chhoti, who won from Purqazi-II ward, is married to Aamir Ali. “We were in love and got married in 2008,” says Ali, who has another wife.
Chhoti, who is politically active, is also president of the Purqazi assembly segment for the Samajwadi Party.
In Lakhimpur Kheri, Rajpat Choudhary, married to Jalaluddin, won from Bijua-V ward. She had a crush on Jalaluddin, who is the principal of a local private college, since childhood, she smiles shyly. “I too taught there for some time,” she says.
They didn’t face any opposition when they got married in 2001, Choudhary says. “Our families were quite friendly with each other… I visit temples and also dargahs, there is no restriction on me.”
Like Chhoti, Choudhary too is interested in politics. A national executive committee member of the Samajwadi Party’s women wing, she had unsuccessfully contested from the Hargaon assembly seat in Sitapur in 2012. In Shahjahanpur, Saroj a.k.a. Ruby, married to Muzammil Khan, won from Bhawalkheda-V ward. They got married in 2013 after an affair.
“I am over 18 years of age, born and brought up in Delhi and aware about my rights. I got married but did not embrace Islam. I contested from a scheduled caste seat and won. It is a right given to me by the government. So what if my husband is a Muslim?” Saroj says.
In Pilibhit, Tulsi won from ward No. 16 and is now a strong contender for the zila panchayat chairperson’s post. Married in 2001 to local businessman Badrul Hasan, she is being backed by the SP for the chairperson’s post.
Talking about how they met, Hasan says, “I had a shop and she used to come there.”