In Madhya Pradesh‘s Dindori village, on 5 April, 24-year-old Asif received a phone call from 22-year-old Sahu, she told him that her parents were sending her to a relative’s home to keep her away from Asif and to avoid communal violence.
The couple met in a nearby village and soon they eloped.
Three days after Asif Khan and Sakshi Sahu eloped, Khan’s family house and shop were wrecked by bulldozers. While the two married each other in a temple, that didn’t spare them from the wrath of Hindutva groups, who has given open calls to harm Asif.
“I was at my shop when Sakshi’s brother came to me and told me that Sakshi had eloped with my son, Asif,” 57-year-old Halim Khan told Maktoob.
Till then, the news had already spread across the village and protests had started against Asif. “The Hindutva named it a case of love jihad.”
In the past month, police have raided Asif’s relatives’ houses to catch the couple. Meanwhile, a police case has been filed against Asif under Article 339 for wrongful confinement and 360 for kidnapping.
‘Love jihad’ is a conspiracy theory advocated by Hindu nationalists that says Muslim men lure Hindu girls to convert to Islam under the pretext of love. Love jihad allegations are repeatedly discredited by India’s investigations agencies.
The UP Vidhi Virudh Dharma Samparivartan Pratishedh Adyadesh 2020 or ‘Love jihad’ law, states among other things that a marriage will be declared null and void if the “sole intention” of the same is to “change a girl’s religion”.
Currently, three other BJP-ruled states – Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka – are also mulling laws designed to prevent “forcible conversions” through marriage.
The law is widely regarded as an instrument of the Hindu nationalist government to frame Muslims and Christians for preaching their religion. The law is also been called out for being anti-women.
Soon Halim began looking for his son everywhere to make him aware of the situation in the village and to bring him back home.
“I spoke to both of them on phone and tried warning them about the consequences their decision could have but Sakshi said that they were not coming back and if we forced them, she would commit suicide or throw herself in front of the train,” he said, adding that a police official also tried to convince Sahu but in vain.
For the next few days, Halim remained in police custody while the police kept looking for the couple everywhere. Back home, the rest of his family abandoned the family house after violence began in the neighbourhood.
“Suddenly I got to know that the authorities had destructed the home that I had built slowly over eight years,” said Halim, adding that about 700 police personnel had surrounded his house while a crackdown was imposed and neighbours were not allowed to leave their homes till the destruction was completed.
“I had put every penny that I had earned into the making of this house.”
The demolition happened a day after local unit of BJP launched a protest, blocking National Highway 45 and demanding to demolish Khan’s home.
Along with their home, Dindori district administration razed three shops belonging to Khan’s family comprising an online service centre, a chicken shop and a tea stall, claiming they were constructed “illegally”, according to Indian Express.
Recently, bulldozers are being used on the shops and houses of those accused of instigating communal violence in BJP-ruled states. This is now becoming a symbol of the BJP’s open disparity against the minority Muslim community in India.
Rendered homeless, Halim has since then been roaming around from one place to another in search of temporary accommodation and safety. “This sudden helplessness and loss of home was something we had never imagined. Our home was destructed, the family was separated, people are after our lives,” he said. “I don’t think anything worse could have happened.”
After a few days of their marriage, Sahu went to the High Court seeking justice and protection against the threat.
Following the demolition, a video emerged online of Sahu affirming that she had willingly chosen to marry Asif Khan.
Halim said that the High Court allowed the couple to get married in court. “All of this almost cost me around 3 lakh Indian rupees and I managed this through taking loans from people,” he said.
“The situation there is extremely bad. Sakshi married my son based on her own will, but the Hindutva samaritan cannot tolerate this.”
After all the destruction, Halim is only worried about the safety of his son and believes if the couple is caught, Asif would either be jailed or killed while Sakshi would be sent home to her parents.
“I want to leave my village and settle down in some peaceful place. I want to keep my son and Sakshi with me because they are not safe,” he said. “We need help.”
Amanullah Usmani, a High Court lawyer fighting Asif and Sahu’s case told Maktoob that Hindutva organisations started protesting against Asif based on the First Information Report (FIR) filed by Sahu’s family.
“As per the constitution of India, Asif or his family has not committed any offence. Sakshi is willingly living with Asif,” he said. “Article 90 gives the right to an individual to choose who they want to live with if they are above the age of 18.”
While the couple’s marriage is not considered legal yet due to Asif being a Muslim marrying Sahu as per Hindu rituals, the High Court has permitted the couple to marry once again as per Indian Special Marriage Act, an act made to cater to inter-caste and inter-religion marriages, whereby the couple is not required to renounce his/her religion to get married. The registration can also happen with them maintaining their religious identity.
“Since there is no conversion of religion and therefore there is no case of love jihad. It is just a simple love story but the society and the girl’s family are not ready to accept it,” he said.