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Sunday, August 01, 2021

J&K ‘conversion’ row: Man in jail, sister says ‘didn’t like relationship’

With the 29-year-old now under arrest on charges of kidnapping and criminal intimidation, and at the centre of allegations of forcible conversion of Sikh women for marriage, Bhat's family says they were not in favour of his relationship with Manmeet Kaur.

Written by Naveed Iqbal | Srinagar |
Updated: July 1, 2021 3:10:44 pm
Jago Party members protest outside J&K House in Delhi Monday. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

The family of Shahid Nazir Bhat hasn’t seen him since the morning of June 21, when he left home for a walk. For two days, they did not hear from him till police came knocking on their door saying Bhat had eloped with a woman from the Sikh community and her family had lodged a complaint.

With the 29-year-old now under arrest on charges of kidnapping and criminal intimidation, and at the centre of allegations of forcible conversion of Sikh women for marriage — which have also reached the Union Home Ministry — Bhat’s family says they were not in favour of his relationship with Manmeet Kaur.

On Tuesday, after she had been handed back to her family, Kaur was married to a man from Sikh community. The family is now in Delhi.

Bhat’s family, based in Rainawari, Srinagar, says he is divorced, with a six-year-old daughter who lives with them. “He and his wife divorced after two years of marriage,” says elder sister Rukaiya Bhat.

The family barely makes ends meet, and is largely dependent on earnings of Bhat’s father, an ironsmith. Bhat assists his father apart from doing odd jobs with a tour and travel operator. His three elder sisters are unmarried and stay with the family.

Rukaiya says they were not happy about Bhat’s friendship with Kaur. “My brother has a child and I informed her family that they have been seen together.” An aunt who lives in the family home and does not wish to be named says, “No one knew that they would do this.”

Rukaiya says Bhat left home at 7 am on June 21 soon after getting a call. “We thought he would be back by 9.” When he didn’t return home, the family thought he had gone somewhere with his friends.

Akali Dal leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa tweeted this photo of Manmeet Kaur in Delhi, saying she had come to Gurdwara Bangla Sahib to “thank the Sangat for their support”.

Rukaiya says the family does not know if Bhat and Kaur got married in this time. “I would not be able to say if they had a nikah. We had no communication with him from the time he left, till police told us he had been arrested.”

According to police, on June 25, Bhat and Kaur walked into Rainawari Police Station. Police, which are tight-lipped about why they came there, produced Kaur before a magistrate. After she had recorded her statement, whose specifics are not known, she was handed over to her family.

Her parents, who were not allowed into court, protested outside along with members of Sikh organisations.

Addressing a press conference in Srinagar on June 28, Akali Dal leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa alleged that four Sikh women had been “forcibly converted and married off” in Jammu and Kashmir. However, the local Sikh leadership has denied this. Jagmohan Singh Raina, president of the All Party Sikh Coordination Committee in Kashmir, told The Indian Express, “The people from outside are exploiting the situation for their political interests. They want to worsen the situation.”

However, on Wednesday, Raina demanded implementation of an inter-caste marriage Act and an anti-conversion law in J&K. “I, on the behalf of the Sikh community, would request that an inter-caste marriage Act be implemented. Once this Act is put in practice, inter-caste marriages would come to an end automatically,” he said, addressing the press in Srinagar.

Rukaiya says they have no resources to fight for Bhat’s bail in court and are banking on the Mutahida Majlis-e-Ulema, which has been negotiating a “truce” with the Sikh community.

The Bhats also hope that with Kaur now married to someone else, “the dust will settle so that we can have him released”.

Kaur is believed to be in the Capital still, and was last seen on Tuesday at Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, escorted by Sirsa. She could not be contacted. In Rainawari, little is known about the man she is now married to.

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