MUZAFFARNAGAR: Farah and Rahul (name changed), both 22, have known each other since they were children. Rahul, a Hindu Rajput, and Farah, a proud Muslim, went to the same village school and are in the same college now.
“We want to spend our lives together but the thought of telling this to my parents is very scary. They will either kill me or her,” said Rahul near the highway to Delhi, where the lovers often spend the time together, away from prying eyes.
“We know our relationship will not end in marriage so we want to be happy till we are together. Both of us don’t want to forego our religion,” said Farah with a tinge of sadness.
Rahul and Farah’s foreboding about the future of relationship reflects the ground reality in Muzaffarnagar since August-September 2013, when more than 60 died and 50,000 were left homeless in two weeks of communal violence that rocked the somnolent villages of this district in western Uttar Pradesh.
Post the riots and atrocities, not a single inter-religious marriage has been registered under the Special Marriage Act, according to data with the district administration. The Act allows couples from different faiths to marry without giving up their religion.
Not that Muzaffarnagar recorded a high number of inter-religious marriage prior to the riots. Two marriages were registered under this Act in 2011 and four in 2012. But to record no inter-faith marriage in five years is unprecedented even for this communally-divided district.
Officials and villagers attributed this to the deep sense of hatred, suspicion and rivalry between the Hindus and Muslims after the riots. Five years have passed, the State has seen a change of government, but the wounds not only fester but seem fresh.
On the face of it life appears to be normal in this riot-prone district. But scratch the surface and the distrust and hate come out in a torrent, often in abusive language.
“After what happened in 2013, couples are very scared to even disclose their relationship, let alone get married. Some of them approach the higher courts to obtain security,” said Muzaffarnagar Additional District Judge Ram Kishore.
Pragya and Yusuf’s story mirrors that of Rahul and Farah. They have been lovers since the past four years and dream of spending life together. But they are unsure if that will happen as both their parents, who know of their relationship, are violently opposed to it.
“We meet 24 kilometres away but we do meet daily. When my parents got to know of my relationship with Pragya, they were livid. They threatened to kill her entire family saying ‘Hindus are traitors’ but that has not deterred me,” said the 29-year-old Yusuf, who runs a bike repair shop.
Pragya is five years younger to Yusuf. Unlike her outspoken lover, she is shy and agrees to speak only after much reassurance from Yusuf.
“We have been together since the past four years. We met each other at a common friend’s wedding. About eight months ago, my parents learnt of our relationship and strictly told me not to meet Yusuf. I meet him daily but the day I am caught I am sure I will be disowned or killed. I have no idea where the future of our relationship is headed,” she said before breaking into tears.
The story of Priya and Sajid is a little different. Priya, 27, is three years elder to Sajid and despite the age gap and differing communities, Sajid’s parents have no objections to their relationship.
“I met her at the bus stop and from the moment I saw her I knew she was the one. Slowly, we became friends. Later my parents came to know of our relationship and surprisingly, they accepted it. But, Priya’s parents don’t know about it,” said Sajid.
Priya’s nerves begin to fray at the thought of telling her parents. “They don’t have any idea of our relationship. I know they will never agree to me marrying a Muslim but we will try our best to take our relationship to marriage,” she said, her voice betraying her nervousness.
Rekha Agarwal, a senior advocate in the Supreme Court, said the Special Marriage Act does not mandate the registration of all inter-religious marriages.
“Only in case both the parties want to retain their original religion after marriage then registration under the Act is compulsory,” she said.