They met,fell in love,and braved all odds to live together. the story of Six Hindu-Muslim couples,not all of whom have seen happy endings.
Those were the darkest days of her life. On the night of March 3,2002,a mob had burnt down her house in Vadodaras Muslim-dominated Hanuman Tekri,not far from the infamous Best Bakery. While her family escaped unhurt,she was severely burnt all over her body,except her face. At the relief camp,Ishrat Tafazzul was still coming to terms with this trauma,when she met Rajesh Patel,a volunteer.
Rajesh,who then worked as a cook at a hotel in Hanuman Tekri,would visit the camps with NGO workers to offer food to the displaced families. During one such visit,he met and fell for Ishrat. She was poor and pitiable,but for me,she was perfect, says Rajesh,now a lanky figure in his early 40s,as he recollects the early days of his relationship with his 34-year-old wife Ishrat.
It was a dangerous time,and he could not propose to a Muslim girl,so he confided his feelings to the NGO workers. The NGO,on its part,was helping arrange marriages for riot-affected families.
Ishrats family,which lived in three different camps for close to eight months,finally found a house on rent. The time was right to let them know of Rajeshs feelings. So,the NGO presented Rajeshs proposal to Ishrats parents,who were worried that nobody would marry their daughter because of her burn injuries. I was still coming to terms with what I had suffered. Marriage was the last thing on my mind. But my family was very concerned about my future. So,they accepted Rajeshs proposal, she says. Rajeshs family also agreed to the match,though reluctantly.
Then began their courtship. They exchanged furtive glances and met in the market. Rajesh would even visit her at her house. But while he was smitten,she was still hesitant. It bothered me that while elsewhere in the city,the two communities were rioting,here we were planning to tie the knot. This,combined with what she and her family suffered,forced her to reject his proposal. I told him it was not going to work. But he returned to our house,held my hand,and promised to keep me happy after marriage, Ishrat says.
Rajesh even converted to Islam and became Abdul Jabbar just days before their marriage,in 2004. This made his family not only withdraw support to the marriage,but also snap all ties with him. But losing his family to his love didnt bother him.
I had left my family since childhood,having fled at the age of eight to Agra,where a Muslim family sheltered me. When I returned to Vadodara,I joined a restaurant in a Muslim locality as a cook. I have always been drawn to Muslims and their religion, says Rajesh,carefully placing his skullcap on his head.
Theres also economic disparity between the two families. Ishrats father and brothers are tailors,originally from Jaunpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Rajeshs parents live in Surat where his father retired as a government servant. His younger brother is an engineer at a private firm in Mumbai.
Ishrat has never met her in-laws. In 2008,when she conceived and Rajesh was struggling to make ends meet,his parents offered him money to start a business of his own. But it was a conditional offer: he would have to divorce Ishrat. He rejected the offer.
Ishrat has not gone to her parents home either since marriage. Her younger brother,who was unhappy with their marriage,does not allow her to. Rajesh works as a cook,and also deals in scrap during spare time to make extra money to run a family of three,including their four-year-old daughter Gungun. They live in a tiny,tin-roofed house on rent.
Ishrat was detected with ovarian tumour a few months ago and is undergoing treatment. The house has no power connection. It heats up during summer and leaks when it rains. But we cant afford to shift to a better place. We have applied for a house under a government scheme. We live on,hoping for the best, she says.