Authorities have allegedly refused to make official the marriage of a Hindu man and a Muslim woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri town, fearing a resurgence of last year’s communal tensions sparked by the mob-lynching of 52-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq over rumours that he slaughtered a calf.
The couple from Chitehra village have failed to get their marriage registered even after six months, with officials allegedly saying the move may trigger a riot.
Marrying out of faith is considered taboo in large parts of India where consenting adults who have broken no laws have been threatened and beaten up by religious vigilantes.
Manjeet Bhati (24) and Salma (20), who later changed her name to Sapna Arya, fled from Dadri in Gautam Budh Nagar district to Allahabad city on October 19 last year on a motorbike. Three days later, Salma adopted Hinduism and they got married at an Arya Samaj temple. The couple allege that they have repeatedly visited government offices over the past five months and met senior district officers, but no one has helped them. They also say that the marriage registrar who refused to make their marriage official, demanded a bribe of Rs 20,000.
The district magistrate of Gautam Budh Nagar, NP Singh, promised that the marriage will be registered and asked a senior officer to look into the matter.
“If both of them are adults then there should not be any problem in registering their marriage. I cannot deny that they were told by a government officer that registering their marriage can ignite communal violence,” Singh said, adding that the rule of the land should prevail. “A similar case happened in Meerut.”
Though prominent celebrities such as Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan are Muslim men married to Hindu women, interfaith marriage remains a sensitive issue in the country.
Bhati claims that he has met all the senior district officers, including the district magistrate, ADM, SDM and city magistrate, but received no support, following which he wrote to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, asking him to intervene.
“We went to the marriage registrar in January but he said that he will not register our marriage as I was a Hindu and my wife a Muslim and this could ignite violence in the area. I assured him that no local has a problem with our marriage and our village is quite peaceful, but still he refused and also demanded Rs 20,000,” Manjeet said.
The incident emerged close on the heels of a Hindu woman and a Muslim man in Karnataka solemnising their marriage this month despite howls of protest from hardline Hindu groups and caste leaders.
Manjeet and Sapna said they initially feared attacks from the bride’s relatives and she sought protection from the area’s senior superintendent of police.
“My parents died while I was quite young. I was living with some relatives who wanted me to marry an elderly man,” Sapna told Mail Today. “But Manjeet and I were friends for long and we decided to get married.”
Her relatives filed an FIR against Manjeet in Meerut after she eloped with him. They said Sapna was a minor and he had kidnapped her.
“As my relatives have threatened to kill us, we sought protection from police for a month and then we appeared before the magistrate in Meerut in December 2015,” she said. “I produced my certificate and my medical test was done, which established I was an adult. The magistrate ordered that I was free to live with anyone and I chose my husband.”
The couple say no one in their village has a problem with their marriage and residents see them as a symbol of unity. “After the mob-lynching incident, people in the area have become more sensitive,” Manjeet said. “There were many rumours afterwards, but no violence happened.”