Subhan Alam, a vegetable seller, constantly mutters “bhaago, bhaago, bhaago”. For two months, that’s what the 56-year-old did, moving from place to place as he and his unwell wife went into hiding to escape the constant questioning by local police over the marriage of their son Nur (24) with his school sweetheart Pushpa Verma. The Alams are back at their two-room rented shanty in Bansi in Siddharthnagar district now. But Nur and Pushpa won’t be returning anytime soon.
In Basti town, nearly 100 km away, Diwali would be exceptional again in Afsar Ahmad’s home. “Even at Holi, you should taste the gujhiyas my daughter-in-law Dipika makes,” smiles Ahmad. If he speaks loudly enough, Dipika’s parents in the house separated from Ahmad’s by just a wall can hear him. However, in the six years since Dilshad Afsar (28) and Dipika Singh (25) got married, there has been no conciliatory sound from the other side. An ex-MLA, Ahmad stood by his son and daughter-in-law after their marriage, going so far as to organise a Hindu marriage in addition to the ceremony under the Special Marriage Act. All the effort seems worthwhile when he looks at his granddaughter. The three-year-old, Ahmad proudly says, “scores 100 out of 100 in school”, and recites ‘The Mulberry Bush’ effortlessly. They have named her ‘Angel’.
About 600 km away from western Uttar Pradesh that is still smouldering from the embers of last year’s riots, this is BJP MP Yogi Adityanath’s territory, and the heart of his Hindu Yuva Vahini network. If Adityanath spearheaded the recent BJP bypoll campaign that made fighting “love jihad” its covert theme, his Yuva Vahini has been at work in these parts of Uttar Pradesh for more than 10 years now.
That these areas have changed in this time, due to factors as varied as mobile phones and exposure to all kinds of media to literacy, has lent its campaign a new urgency. The Hindu Yuva Vahini has sensed the anxiety among parents about changes they don’t understand, and cashed in. What separates Subhan Alam from Afsar Ahmad is that the latter is richer, an ex-MLA, and hence lesser susceptible to the Vahini’s pressure.
Says chief police officer V S Sharma, “The matter is closed now as Pushpa and Nur are adults. There is no love jihad here and not one case has been reported so far.”
However, privately, his colleagues admit that in the constant tussle between girls stepping out and worlds closing in, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make voices of reason count.
Nur and Pushpa’s lawyer Noorul Huda, a successful attorney in the area, says, “I have four-files currently regarding elopements — a much higher rate than before.”
Huda calls them “mobile cases”. “In our times, it was glances, friends, love letters, a long and often unsure process. Now, just a missed call can kickstart a life-changing event. Razai mein let ke, ghanto vibration pe baat ho rahi hai (Under covers, they chat for hours with ringers off)… This has made trying to control or set up barriers impossible. Add to this the Hindu Yuva Vahini providing ‘protection’.”
Shafiq Ahmed, a fellow lawyer from Azamgarh, sees “a great sense of success in how communal riots occurred in western UP over this Hindu girl and Muslim boy theme supposedly”. He believes this will go on till the next Assembly elections. “So we will have not just love jihad, but also meat jihad and madrasa jihad — old and personal things twisted into political issues.”
The Hindu Yuva Vahini’s Nandeswar Ojha calls it a “terror campaign”. “Islamic terror impacts the world. Love jihad is a part of that terror. There are many cases here… thousands.”
But Ojha is unable to give specifics of even one. “It is more in western UP. We are less affected and are ensuring it does not grow — just prevention.”
The Hindu Yuva Vahini’s Basti spokesman Arun Bharti claims “seven-eight” FIRs where Muslim boys used hidden names “to fool or forcibly take away” Hindu girls. “In the past three years, there have been three cases like this, and two girls came back.”
BJP Basti district president Avdesh Singh even reads out a “rate card” deployed in ‘love jihad’ — “For raping and leaving a Hindu girl, Rs 50,000; for raping and marrying her, Rs 2 lakh; for raping, marrying her, settling down and then leaving her, Rs 5 lakh.”
Ask him who is funding this, and Singh fumbles for an answer, before saying: “This is what we have heard in discussions and seen on TV.”
Adityanath had himself spoken to the police to “retrieve” Dipika Singh, now married to Dilshad Afsar. “A mobile bill of Rs 1.30 lakh in a month, some years ago, was the price we have paid to be together,” laughs Dilshad now.
Dipika studied in a “convent”, a fact underlined several times in Basti, a place that has long been suspended between being a town and a city. She met Dilshad in college, where they studied together. Her parents did all they could to stall their marriage and involved the police, which brought in the Hindu Yuva Vahini. Their troubles continued till Dipika stood before the Allahabad High Court two years ago and said she wanted to stay with Dilshad.
She is finishing her B.Com now and plans to pursue her masters. Dilshad is a lawyer.
Pushpa too had to move court to stay with Nur. A Hindu goldsmith’s daughter, she fell in love with the poor vegetable seller’s son in school, where they studied together. Nur’s family was roughed up and its vegetable thela broken. They had to take a loan to pay a bribe to be left alone, they say.
In August this year, a local court declared Pushpa and Nur “major”, and hence free to make own decisions. Pushpa testified that she and Nur had got married in Lucknow, and that she had gone with him of her own volition.
Agreeing to speak only over the phone, the two say they are determined to “make it work”. They have only done schooling, and Nur has now set up a “small business” while Pushpa does small stitching jobs.
Advocate Vivek Srivastava sees both the opposition to such relationships and the pushback the result of a “new and unprecedented freedom enjoyed by the new generation”. Relationships are no more caste or community bound, he says.
If these seem tilted towards Muslim boys and Hindu girls, Srivastava adds, there is a reason. “Maybe there are fewer Muslim girls with as much liberty,” he says. “But that too is bound to change.”
In fact, an unsigned ‘reverse jihad’ message among Muslims lists 100 couples where the boy is a Hindu and the girl a Muslim. “These things will keep simmering,” warns Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, blaming the BJP.
Niloufer Usmani (55), the principal of Begum Khair Girls Inter College in Basti, has seen the town change over the past two decades. But never as swiftly as in the past five years or so. Choosing her words carefully, she notes that development and progress differ. “Awareness is low here and vikas (progress) slow, but development has happened,” she observes.
Parents now want their girls to study, Usmani says, as much due to government incentives as the realisation that it is essential. But few take into consideration that many of them may then want to do other things besides join “safe” professions like teaching. “Girls see many possibilities. They want to pick partners of their choice and level, not worrying about caste or religion,” says Usmani.
Agrees Mohammad Yasir Abbasi (31), a lawyer from the region who comes from a family of freedom fighters, “A technological change like the Railways threatened social rigidity, with people of different religions and castes travelling together. Similarly, youngsters are mixing across barriers now. How can that trend be put back in the box?”
“Speaking honestly”, says Ahmad, he was distressed at son Dilshad picking Dipika over a Muslim girl. But now that the couple have settled down, it is his duty to ensure “a roof over their heads”, he says.
“Yeh dil ki baat hai (these are matters of the heart),” says paediatrician Dr Mohammad Iqbal. “It is the oldest story on Earth and will continue till the world ends. Boys and girls are doing M.A. together, how will you stop them from making off together — Hindu-Muslim, or inter-caste?”
(Seema Chishti published this article under heading: "It is tech, not terror, that’s shrinking boundaries in Adityanath’s home turf"