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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

‘If someday I feel like joining as she does aarti, I’d do it happily’

Mohsin Khan’s late father was an autorickshaw driver. After his death, the Class 5 dropout started driving the autorickshaw, while taking up painting assignments on the side.

Written by Deep Mukherjee |
Updated: December 17, 2017 6:58:34 am
‘If someday I feel like joining as she does aarti, I’d do it happily’ Protesters gathered outside a police station seeking couple be separated. Express photo)

IT’S been a fortnight now since Mohsin Khan saw the woman he wanted to marry, or has heard from her. Their last meeting was at Maha Mandir Police Station in Jodhpur where, surrounded by relatives inside, and Hindu right-wing groups outside, she told him their relationship could only continue if he converted. It was the first time his 20-year-old Hindu girlfriend had raised such a demand, says Khan, 23.

A lot has happened in Rajasthan since, including a murder recorded on video over alleged love jihad. In the shadow cast by that incident, Khan fears, their story will die. They were neighbours, and it was in the many public parks, cafes and rickety tea stalls of Jodhpur, where Khan and she spent long afternoons, that their friendship blossomed over their teenage years into adulthood and love. Their memories are strewn across the city’s spaces, he says, his voice catching over the phone.

Khan’s late father was an autorickshaw driver. After his death, the Class 5 dropout started driving the autorickshaw, while taking up painting assignments on the side. The 20-year-old is in the first year of graduation. Her father is a tailor, while her brother works in a private firm. “We went to Navratri programmes together and also visited dargahs… The entire neighbourhood knew about our relationship,” Khan says. However, they feared that their families would never agree to the next big step they wanted to take: marriage. So, on November 26, they left their homes and went to Bikaner, hoping to marry and settle there, Khan says. “I wanted to start a painting business. We decided that she would enroll at a college in Bikaner,” says Khan.

A day after they had arrived in Bikaner, police landed up along with a cousin of the woman. The couple were brought to Jodhpur’s Maha Mandir Police Station, where her family was already present. Soon, a crowd including members of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagran Manch gathered outside, shouting slogans and claiming ‘love jihad’.

Khan says that to him, what followed was the most shocking part. Sitting amidst relatives, she said she wanted him to convert. “She told me she has given a statement to the magistrate saying she would marry me if I converted to Hinduism. I asked her if she was sure, if she really wanted me to change my religion,” says Khan, adding that he keeps replaying that moment in his mind. “She told me, ‘Dharam dekhke to pyaar nahin kiya tha hamne (We didn’t love each other bearing in mind our religions)’. Why would she say this if she really wanted me to convert?”

That was the last time Khan saw her. The woman’s parents have switched off their phones since and refuse to talk to the media, or to let her meet anyone. Khan’s uncle Mohammed Rafique, the only family member talking from his side, says they are scared. “We are simple people and don’t want any trouble. The parents of the woman are also good people, and we understand they care for their daughter’s future,” says Rafique, who owns a small business of ironworks in Jodhpur.

He adds that if the parents of the woman had agreed to her marriage with his nephew, they would have put no pressure on her to convert. “We respect every religion and don’t believe that people from a different faith need to convert before marrying into our family. She could practise Hinduism even if she is in a Muslim household such as ours,” says Rafique.

The family members of the woman, however, accuse Khan of trapping her so as to make her convert to Islam. The cousin who got the two of them from Bikaner is the only one who agrees to talk. He says Khan used “magic spells” to control the woman and to ensure she doesn’t see reason. “The boy deliberately trapped her because Muslim men get money to elope with Hindu women and later convert them to Islam. We also had a dispute with their family last year.”

The row, later resolved mutually, was over bursting of crackers during Diwali. The cousin claims that since the woman left Khan, they have held prayers to free her from his spell. “We had to conduct several rituals with the help of VHP members… At first, she wouldn’t even look into our eyes,” he says. He also claims that the family may consider the marriage if Khan converts to Hinduism.

Sudarshan Upadhyay, the VHP in-charge of Maha Mandir area in Jodhpur, claims it was because of them that the woman was brought back from Bikaner. “We had got information that a Hindu woman had run away with a Muslim man. Following that, we helped police bring her back and later convinced her that she should marry the man only if he agrees to convert to Hinduism.” He says the VHP told her they would even fund such a wedding between the two.

Police say they are no longer investigating the matter as no formal case has been registered by either party. “We had lodged a missing person’s report after the woman went missing, and once she was brought back, the matter was closed. Her family requested us to keep their contact details confidential as they don’t want to talk about the incident,” says Sita Ram Khoja, SHO, Maha Mandir Police Station, Jodhpur.

Khan says he keeps hoping the woman would come around. “I don’t want to convert as a precondition for marriage after five years of knowing her. She can be a Hindu, and I a Muslim. But if someday I feel like folding my hands and praying to God as she does aarti in a temple in our house, I would happily do so,” he says.

But, Khan admits, he is no longer sure that would ever happen. “I am worried that anything I say might disrupt the communal harmony here. I would never want that… This is not me, I never saw a person as a Hindu or a Muslim. I was also on good terms with her parents.”

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