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They first became friends almost a decade ago, when he was in Class VII and she in Class VIII at the Sardar Children Senior Secondary School in Jodhpur. In the years that followed, their “casual friendship” developed into a relationship.
Faiez Modi, now 23, and Payal Singhvi, now 22, say their friends, classmates, school-teachers and anyone else who knew them outside of their homes were aware of their relationship. In April, they got married secretly, and on October 25, Payal left her home to be with Faiez.
Her family filed a habeas corpus petition, claiming that she had been “brainwashed” and was a victim of “love jihad”. On November 1, the Rajasthan High Court directed the police to file an FIR, and sent Payal to Nari Niketan for a week.
But on Tuesday, the court ordered that she be set free. “The corpus Payal Singhvi stated before us that she is a major, and she was not in illegal detention of any person, therefore, she may be set free,” said a bench of Justices G K Vyas and M K Garg.
And Payal, now Aarifa, chose to go with Faiez.
Speaking to The Indian Express after the court order, the couple said they never really concerned themselves with the religion of their families. Payal said her father, a pujari, was a Sai Baba devotee and followed his teaching to embrace all religions. She said they have a temple on the ground floor of their house, where she used to sing bhajans and kirtan with her father. “He also made arrangements for Namaz inside the temple on a couple of occasions during Ramzan to send a message of harmony… until he came to know about us,” she said.
When Faiez was in Class X, Payal’s family first came to know about their relationship. Her family members allegedly assaulted Faiez and took away his cellphone and SIM card.
“We have known each other since childhood,” said Payal. “Anyone can claim anything, but I am with him as per my will.”
After they completed school, they weighed their options. But even then, religion was not on the table. “In college, we realised that love won’t fill our stomachs, so I set up a garments business in my second year as an undergraduate,” said Faiez.
While they were in college, her father spotted them together. “He spoke to me. I told him, ‘Sir, you know we have been together for so many years’. He threatened me, but since he is my elder, I listened to him quietly. It is understandable, any parent would have reacted in that manner,” said Faiez.
“We are all educated, and I never brought up conversion or religion with her, until we decided to get married. Because then she may not want to be here, she may feel suffocated,” he said, adding that he too never felt out of place as the only Muslim in a class of 50.
So, he said, he was “shocked” to read about the allegations of “love jihad”.
“I told him to be sure about his decision, because it is an inter-religion marriage. They shouldn’t call it off, after, say, two years, and end up ruining each other’s lives,” said his father, Aijaz Modi.
Payal’s father, Narpat Chand Singhvi, meanwhile, alleged that she was under a spell. “Tantra-mantra aur sab kuch kiya hua hai uspe, mujhe ab is court pe koi umeed nahi lagti. Jab Hindu hi Hindu ke paksh me nahi hai, toh doosro se kya umeed karen (She is under a spell, I have no hope from the court. When a Hindu won’t support another Hindu, what can we expect from others),” he said.
“No other parent should face this. There should be a law whereby one cannot change his/ her religion without the consent of parents,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hindu organisations held protests outside the court on Tuesday, targeting senior advocate Mahesh Bora, who represented Faiez. “Whenever there is an inter-religion case, there are a few people, few groups in our society who want to give it a communal colour… So they made me the target,” said Bora.
“I request our Prime Minister to enforce a strict law against love jihad in Rajasthan so that our Hindu sisters and daughters can get justice and be protected from men with ill intentions,” said Ranjeet Bafna, Jodhpur Mahanagar convenor of Hindu Jagran Manch.
The matter comes in the backdrop of the controversial Kerala case involving Hadiya, a Hindu girl who converted to Islam and married a Muslim man, Shefin Jahan. The Kerala High Court had annulled the marriage and given her custody to her father. The case is now in the Supreme Court.