April 30, 2007 Issue)
Civil Code, De Facto
by Saba Naqvi Bhaumik
Bhopal's Hour Of Marital Crisis
* The city came close to a riot last fortnight over a Muslim boy marrying a Sindhi-Hindu girl.
* The Bajrang Dal has formed a Hindu Kanya Suraksha Committee.
* The Sindhi panchayat wanted their girls to stop using mobiles or riding two-wheelers and to abandon the city's fashion of covering their heads and faces Islamic style.
* The state CID keeps tabs on all Hindu-Muslim marriages.
* According to one list distributed by the Bajrang Dal, 341 such marriages have taken place between 1997-2004.
* Families of Muslim boys who run away with Hindu girls are harassed by the police.
* The Muslim community has responded to the latest uproar with a dignified silence.
Are Hindu-Muslim marriages made in heaven too? Perhaps, but if you happen to be in Bhopal, capital city of Madhya Pradesh, that saccharine-sweet cliche is swiftly turned sour by a vicious form of saffron vigilantism. Hindutva's brigadiers unleash mayhem on the streets each time such a marriage takes place, the state cid keeps a list of such couples, and the parivar's propaganda machine spews uninterrupted venom about predatory Muslim men luring innocent Hindu maidens.
Over the last one month, the state home department has recorded six inter-religious marriages in Madhya Pradesh, three each in Indore and Bhopal. But while the Indore marriages provoked no stir, Bhopal came close to a riot on April 14 over the issue. Of the three Bhopal couples, one Neetu and Rehan quietly returned to their respective homes after they were tracked down. Since they claimed they had got married already, their families are now believed to be thrashing out the details. One couple is yet to be traced.
It is, however, the elopement of Priyanka Wadhwani, a girl from a wealthy Sindhi family, and Umar, also from a leading Muslim family in Bhopal, that triggered the biggest storm in the city. Incensed, the Sindhi community convened a panchayat. Much deliberation later, the elders concluded that it was mobile phones and two-wheelers that were leading their daughters astray and perhaps a curb was required on these. A "distinctly Islamic" influence was also discerned in the practice of Bhopal girls covering their heads while riding. "They say they do it to protect themselves from heat and dust," said Madhu Chandwani, general secretary of the Sindhi panchayat. "But it's clearly a fashion picked up from some Muslim girls. We Sindhis left Pakistan to protect our daughters, and here in India they are moving around with their heads covered."
The girls, however, did not take kindly to the panchayat's diktat and took out a procession. Sindhis in Indore too expressed reservations. Confronted with all the opposition, the panchayat backtracked and said these were just views and not a firman on the community.
As for Priyanka and Umar, they are in hiding in Mumbai and are said to have contacted activist Teesta Setalvad. Umar's family thinks it would be foolish for them to return as Umar could be attacked or even thrown into jail in bjp-ruled Madhya Pradesh. Never mind if the court has ordered that the couple be given protection.
Priyanka and Umar's troubles have been compounded by the fact that Priyanka's family has close links with the parivar. Outlook met her uncle Lajpat Rai Wadhwani in the company of known parivar activist Bhagwandas Sabnani, who is also said to be a close aide of Uma Bharati. Uncle Wadhwani was categorical that "Priyanka is dead for us". More vocal was Sabnani who was not only instrumental in organising the panchayat but was also behind the creation of the Hindu Kanya Suraksha Samiti, another parivar front organisation that will largely be run by the Bajrang Dal.
Love doesn't enter into the picture for Sabnani; it's all part of a larger conspiracy to convert Hindus to Islam. He outlines the diabolical design Muslim boys perpetrate: wear tilaks to disguise themselves as Hindus and hang around girls colleges; threaten and force the girl to run away with them and then abandon them since they can marry many times.
Bhopal girls cover their heads against the dust, but for Sindhis it’s Islamic
That both Umar and Rehan have converted to Hinduism is not enough to wash their sins. "It's meaningless," says Sabnani. "Done under pressure." With the families of both boys under attack in Bhopal, the Hindu conversion could indeed have been a tactical move. For Sabnani, there is no doubt: "In no time, they will reconvert." The most sensible thing for the couple to have done was to marry under the Special Marriages Act, but it's a long bureaucratic process that requires a month's notice during which anyone can object to the proposed marriage.
Incidentally, of Umar's eight brothers, the eldest too is married to a Hindu, Aparajita Sharma, daughter of a police DG and an IAS officer herself. Reports in the media said the second daughter-in-law too was a Hindu but she is in fact Muslim, and goes by the name of Zeba. The rest of the brothers are unmarried. When Umar disappeared with Priyanka, it was Zeba's husband and Umar's brother who was picked up by the police and questioned repeatedly for five days.
All their connections and wealth can't stop Umar's family from feeling nervous, enough for them to refuse being photographed or be directly quoted. They say people who tried to help them were asked to lay off by the highest authorities in the state. The police would land up at their house at odd hours and without warrants. Umar's conversion is hardly an issue for them. As a family member says, "He is a 22-year-old child. We are worried only about his security and health." Currently the family has round-the-clock police protection.
Hardly surprising, as many think that the state government would have allowed a riot had the regime in Delhi been friendly. But as Sajid Ali, a senior lawyer and Congressman, says, "We recently complained to the minority commission in Delhi how there have been 112 incidents of communal tension since the BJP came to power." Ultimately, the BJP dispensation decided to back off and told its Bajrang Dal/VHP cadres not to agitate further. Even the devout doubted the intentions of the agitators. The general secretary of the All India Sindhi Sadhu Samaj, Mahant Baba Ramdas Udaseen, told Outlook: "Social outrage is not surprising in such cases. But these days such issues are also highlighted for the political agenda of dividing communities."
And no one did it better than the parivar outfits in Bhopal. They made political capital out of the state's practice of tabulating such marriages, something it has no business doing. The Bajrang Dal went to town distributing an 'official' list of 341 Hindu-Muslim marriages in Bhopal between 1997 and 2004. Hardly an alarming figure but enough to reinforce parivar lore of venal Muslim characters pursuing innocent Hindu damsels. Some years ago, VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore had gone on record to tell this correspondent: "There is a physical reason Muslims can seduce Hindu girls. They give them more sharirik anand (physical pleasure) because they have a surgery, Hindus don't." In Kishore's view, circumcision is the Muslim's secret weapon. In the face of such seductive logic, can reason have a chance?
By Saba Naqvi Bhaumik and K.S. Shaini in Bhopal