Nineteen-year-old Nikita, a Jat girl, and 20-year-old Ishkam, a Muslim boy, may have had an inkling about the repercussions of their decision to elope. Perhaps if this had taken place somewhere else in Uttar Pradesh, the situation would have been a little more normal.
But this happened in Bijnor – one of the most communally sensitive districts of western Uttar Pradesh – which has been simmering since the 2013 riots in the region in which 60 people died.
The elopement in Bijnor took place on June 5. Since then, the Hindu Jagran Manch, an offshoot of the RSS which is widely known to be running the Sangh Parivar’s “ghar wapasi” campaign – which persuades Hindu converts to Christians to return to the fold — has become even active in the area. They are now said to be egging on Hindu families to unite and fight for “the cause.”
The Manch has even formed a ‘Beti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti’ to pursue the matter and run an “awareness” campaign under this banner so that other girls don’t take similar steps.
Last week the Manch went one step further, by organizing a “mahapanchayat”. Speakers made provocative speeches and decided to intensify their protest against the elopement.
The police as well as the administration were fully aware of the “mahapanchayat”, but allowed it to be held. Despite a heavy police force, speakers had no hesitation in making communal speeches.
In the eyes of the law, both Nikita and Ishkam are majors and have the full right to decide their destiny. But the Hindu Jagran Manch thinks differently.
Even the Superintendent of Police, Bijnor, Atul Sharma, looks upon the activities of the Manch kindly. He indignantly protests the accusation of the Manch fomenting communal hatred and says, “Yeh communal hatred ka mamla nahi hai.. culture ko le kar ho raha hai.”
This matter is not about communal hatred, it is about Hindu culture.
Certainly, the police are helping the girl’s parents search for her far and wide, including to neighbouring Rajasthan and as far away as Jammu & Kashmir. A case of abduction has been lodged against Ishkam, as well as his two brothers and a brother-in-law. One brother has already been sent to jail.
The so-called Beti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti president, Mangal Singh, told the ‘Indian Express’, “We are satisfied with the police action. They have made arrests and applied due pressure on the Muslim community to help trace the boy and the girl. Although it was their festival (Eid) on Monday, SP sahib warned them to make the boy return with the girl,” he says.
On the involvement of the Hindu Jagran Manch, Mangal Singh speaks with conviction. “Arey, they have always been with us. They have been looking after this matter from the beginning and are now constantly coordinating with the police on this matter,” he adds.
The Manch’s district general secretary, Jitendra Bais says, “We were informed about a Muslim boy luring a Hindu girl and eloping with him. We have been pursuing the matter. This village has 70 per cent population of Muslims. The boy is employed in Saudi Arabia and had come home recently. The girl has carried all her educational documents with her which shows they already had planned for the elopement.”
But Bais also feels that the lack of a proper outcome is because chief minister Yogi Adityanath had warned the police to work without “any pressure.”
But, of course, love will have its way. On January 31, 2015, a Muslim youth had eloped with a Hindu girl in Dhampur area. His parents and other family members abandoned the village after a group of men stormed into his uncle’s house and beat up everybody. The police later recovered the girl from Kashmir.
Last year, in nearby Pedda village, an incident of eve-teasing snowballed into a communal incident between Jats and Muslims, in which 3 Muslims were killed and 12 people injured.
Two months later, in Kareempur Mubaraq village in Bijnor’s Nahtaur area, another so-called incident of eve-teasing resulted in a communal class. Both sides indulged in arson, in which several people including a dozen policemen were injured.