Kannauj: Priya Verma (29), a teacher and a civil service aspirant from Kannauj’s Gursahaiganj, is angry but helpless.
It was just last month that she got married to Taufiq (32), her boyfriend of two years and a fellow civil service aspirant, with Hindu rituals, in the presence of her parents. But now they are apart — Taufiq is in jail under the Uttar Pradesh anti-conversion law, and she is at home, trying to resist her parents’ attempts to get her married again.
a person wearing a costume: Taufiq and Priya got married by Hindu rituals on 10 December | By special arrangement© Provided by The Print Taufiq and Priya got married by Hindu rituals on 10 December | By special arrangement
Taufiq and Priya got married by Hindu rituals on 10 December | By special arrangement
It wasn’t the consequence Priya had in mind when she introduced Taufiq to her parents as Rahul Verma, knowing they wouldn’t approve of her marriage to a Muslim. She insists she wasn’t misled. Priya says she had known his real identity when they got married at Lucknow on 10 December, that he never tried to convert her, and that he was ready to adopt Hinduism.
But when the truth came out, things quickly got out of hand.
Her family got to know about Taufiq’s real identity just two days after their marriage.
Her brother posted their picture on Facebook, and local residents from Gursahaiganj soon reached her father Sarvesh Shukla, a tailor. They told him that “Rahul” was in fact Taufiq and that he lived barely a kilometre away from their house.
A local BJP leader got involved and convinced Shukla that it was a case of “love jihad”. He told him that a police complaint should be filed in the matter.
Priya was at her maternal home at the time for ‘fera’, a Hindu wedding ritual that requires daughters to visit their parents a day after their wedding.
She was subsequently made to stay back at her parents’, and Taufiq put behind bars under sections of impersonation, cheating, marrying with fraudulent intention, malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings and sections 3 and 6 of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition Of Unlawful Conversion Of Religion Ordinance, 2020.
While Section 3 of the law prohibits people from trying to convert someone by marriage, Section 6 says marriage done for the “sole purpose” of “unlawful conversion” or vice-versa will be null and void.
Notably, the complaint on which the FIR is based says nothing of conversion.
Asked about the case, police acknowledge that Priya knew Taufiq was Muslim but claim she herself gave a statement against him. However, Priya says she was under pressure from her parents to testify to their allegations. Reluctant to speak or discuss the details before her parents when ThePrint arrived at their home, she stepped aside to ask for this reporter’s phone number.
Speaking to ThePrint on the phone later, she said she is desperate to reunite with her husband. “How can I get back to him?” she asked.
Sarvesh Shukla, meanwhile, refuses to budge. As far as he is concerned, he said, the marriage never happened.
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‘He was ready to convert’
According to the FIR, accessed by ThePrint, Shukla’s complaint alleges that their family was misled by Taufiq and that Priya was “cajoled” into getting married to him. The FIR states that Taufiq introduced himself as Rahul and misled the family, but does not mention anything about him asking Priya to change her religion.
“He never asked me to change my religion. He was, in fact, ready to become a Hindu. We got married with Hindu rituals, isn’t that proof enough?” Priya said.
Priya has a double MA in sociology and funded her higher education working as a junior teacher at a local school. She aspires to join the Indian Police Service (IPS) one day, and joining the civil services is a dream she shares with Taufiq.
“We planned to study together and crack the civil services. He got me all the books and always supported me. What did we know that lying about this (his religion) to my parents would land him in jail,” she said.
In the initial days of their courtship, Priya stated, Taufiq did lie to her about being Hindu but later told her the truth himself.
“He hid it from me because he did not want to lose me. But it is untrue that he married me without telling me the truth,” she said.
When her family found out his religion, she added, she “kept telling my father that he should not file a complaint with police”.
But local residents and Vinay, a former RSS member who is now the BJP’s regional head for Kanpur and Bundelkhand, insisted, and police got involved.
Also Read: How Special Marriage Act is condemning interfaith couples to UP-style anti-conversion laws
No statement to the magistrate
According to police, Taufiq’s arrest was made from near Gursahaiganj on 20 December.
“The woman had come to her home for a ritual. She was asked to stay back and a team went to Lucknow to arrest Taufiq. He may have got to know about the case against him, so he also left home,” said Raja Dinesh Singh, the station house officer for Gursahaiganj. “We then sent our teams and through surveillance arrested him from near Gursahaiganj.
“He was sent to judicial custody and is now in jail. In these cases, the woman’s statement is the evidence so that will become the basis of the case,” he added.
Singh admitted that Priya knew Taufiq’s identity. “The man initially lied to her but later told her that he was a Muslim. She knew his identity. But now since she has given a complaint, we will go by that statement,” he said.
In a departure from procedure, Priya’s statement to police has been recorded as her statement to the magistrate. Usually, in such cases, the victim gives a statement to the magistrate, under Section 164 of the CrPC, and that is considered evidence in court. The statement is important as it happens between the victim and the magistrate, with no police interference or presence.
In this case, however, police took a written approval from Priya that her statement to police be considered her statement to the magistrate as well.
SHO Singh sought to justify this decision.
“On 24 December, she was taken to the court and the case diary was also presented before the judge. The judge said that if the woman supports her statement to police recorded under Section 161, then that will be considered her 164 CrPC statement,” he said. “Since the woman said she supports whatever she told police in her statement, and since she is not a minor, it was considered as final,” he told ThePrint.
Priya, however, says she was under pressure from her parents.
“I tried telling police also that I knew Taufiq and no case should be registered but I was snubbed. Then there was pressure from everyone at home,” she said over the phone. “All I want is my husband to return. I want to go back home with him and live my life,” she added.
Priya said she went to jail to see Taufiq but was not allowed to speak to him. She saw him from a distance, she added, and returned.
Feeling helpless, Priya also sought help from this reporter.
“How can I get my husband back? I was under pressure but I want to return to him somehow. I know police will not help me,” she said. “Despite my telling them the truth, they registered a case and put my husband behind bars,” she said. “Is there a way I can reach court and ask for relief?”
Also Read: UP Muslim man ‘elopes’ with a Hindu girl, police put 13 of his family in jail for ‘conspiracy’
Looking for a ‘suitable boy’
When ThePrint arrived at their home, Priya’s mother and father did not leave her side. Sarvesh Shukla said he now wants to get her married to a Hindu.
“This marriage never happened for us. We are now looking for a suitable Hindu boy for her to get her married,” he added.
As soon as he made this statement, Priya broke in. “I will never get married again,” she said. “I am married,” she added, tears rolling down her eyes.
Shukla went on. “We were misled by Taufiq. When no one from his family turned up for the wedding, he told us that his family stays in Jaipur and that he has cut all ties with him,” he said. “Thank God we were helped by local BJP leaders and now that cheat is in jail,” he added.
BJP leader Verma said they decided to intervene when he got to know about this episode from their “network”.
“We were told that the woman did not know she was marrying a Muslim. He lied to her. When this episode was flagged to me, I got an initial inquiry done and found out that the man was indeed a Muslim and had married her by deceit,” he added. “I then went to the woman’s father and convinced him to get a police case registered against him.”
Asked if he spoke to Priya, Verma said “no”.
“We spoke to the father. That was enough. The woman was not there that day. The father told me he had no knowledge of this man being a Muslim and that is enough to initiate a case,” he said.
Verma, however, added that he would not have had an issue with the marriage had the couple “followed proper procedure”.
“If he wanted to get married to her, he should have given a representation to the DM (district magistrate), waited for two months,” he said, referring to a provision under the anti-conversion law that requires couples seeking conversion to give two months’ notice to the district administration.
“We would have had no objection if he had followed procedure and not cheated the family by hiding his identity. Religious deceit will not be tolerated at any cost,” he added