The Week
Oct 18, 1998

Lovers on
the run

V. RADHIKA in New Delhi

Her father wanted to sell her, now the people of her village in Haryana want her dead. All because she married her lover

Idris MohammadTears welled up in Idris Mohammad's eyes as he heard the Supreme Court judges pronounce their verdict: Maimon Bhaskri could live with Idris if she so desired. The couple was elated. But Idris (pic: left) knew and so did Maimon that their inter-caste love story was far from attaining the postscript "and they lived happily". They may have won the legal battle, but the war to protect their lives is still on.

This war has to be fought unarmed on the congested bylanes of a brutal and uncaring world, not in the sanitised environs of a court room. This war means hiding in a cubbyhole which passes off as a room. It means dreading every knock on your door. It means foregoing little pleasures like going out for a walk together or to the shop round the corner to buy vegetables and groceries. It means living under the shadow of fear. For 28-year-old Idris and 20-year-old Maimon it also means a determination to win the war of love.

It was perhaps this determination that cushioned Maimon's defenceless body when it was knifed relentlessly by her cousin Jalaluddin, with 11 others including the village pradhan seemingly egging the venegful relative on. What else could explain the fact that the girl who was gangraped, beaten mercilessly, stabbed at least 12 times and dumped in a field to die, survived. Not once, but twice.

The stone-studded silver choker around Maimon's neck and the dozen-odd glass bangles that adorn her slender hands serve much more than ornamental purpose. They hide the scars that ruthless knifing left on her body.

The scars are the society's gift to a fair, beautiful girl for committing various sins: of being born in a low-caste qureshi (butcher) household in Haryana's Sudaka village, of resisting her father's attempt to sell her off for Rs 50,000, and the most unpardonable one of marrying her lover, Idris, a high caste Meo Muslim.

That he was already married and a father of two did not deter her. After all, she argues, Islam allows a man to have more than one wife. Moreover, she says, her village is replete with such examples. Besides, she insists, "Idris's first wife has no objections."

Initially Idris tried to dissuade her because he was married. "But when her father tried to sell her off, I told her I will always be by her side," he says.
The couple had a nikah ceremony in Delhi on June 4 last year. But whoever coined the famous Urdu adage, "Jab miyan biwi razi, to kya karega kazi," (when a man and woman want to marry, how can the priest prevent them) obviously did not know the barbaric villagers of Sudaka which is barely an hour's drive from Delhi. Four days after the wedding, Maimon was dragged out of Idris' house and taken away in a jeep.

"They were four of them including the village headman Nasir. I was beaten up and raped. They took away the Rs 10,000 I had with me. I was taken to Narial village. For six days I was drugged and raped. They then took me to Jaipur and subsequently Alwar in Rajasthan where the same process was repeated," she says in a flat voice, bereft of emotions.

Maimon's 20-day ordeal culminated in her cousin Jalaluddin's house in Siroli Pahada village about 5 km from Sudaka village. And how? He locked her in a room and beat her till she fainted, and later stabbed her in the stomach. Convinced that she was dead, he and his accomplices dumped her in a field and drove away. A village woman spotted her and informed the police who rushed her to Delhi's Safdarjung Hospital.

Meanwhile Idris, who suffered the ignominy of getting his face blackened, being paraded on a donkey and coughing up a "fine" of Rs 25,000 imposed by the village panchayat, reached Delhi. He took care of the traumatised Maimon in hospital and after her discharge they started living together in Delhi.
But Idris, who had taken up a job in an automobile company, found a case of kidnapping registered against him by Maimon's family members. They contended that Maimon was a minor. However, the High Court and later the Supreme Court ruled that under Mohammdan law, a girl who had attained puberty was entitled to contract a marriage on her own.

But the tribulations did not end. Hearing reports that Idris' family was being harassed by villagers, the couple knocked on the doors of the National Commission for Women (NCW). Confident about their counselling prowess, an NCW team visited Sudaka on August 14 last year, with gun-totting policemen providing back-up support.

But they had underestimated the fury of the villagers' wrath. According to the four-member team, the police remained passive as a gang of abusive villagers dragged Maimon and Idris out of the car. While the villagers took away the girl, NCW's law officer Sadiq Jilani managed to pull back Idris and hid him in the car's trunk.

The next day, as the country celebrated its 50 years of freedom, Maimon was being beaten black and blue in her village. It was only after the NCW mounted pressure on the state administration and the Union home ministry that the police rescued her two days later. She was subsequently sent to the Nari Niketan in Karnal district.

Idris, who had gone into hiding, sent representations to the NCW about his family's harassment by villagers. The NCW in turn wrote several times to the Haryana Police to protect the family. The latest was in July this year when the police allegedly took a relative of Idris into custody to find out where Idris was.

The Gurgaon Superintendent of Police, Khusi Ram, dismissed Maimon's allegations of rape. "How can a village headman rape a girl of his village or even look on as other men rape her. There is no truth in these allegations," he told THE WEEK. However, he said, Maimon's cousin Jalaluddin had been arrested on the charge of attempted murder.

Denying Idris's allegation that members of his family were being threatened, the SP said, "In villages people get angry when a boy and a girl of the same village get married. That is what happened in this case."

Khusi Ram said it was unlikely that the villagers would ever "forgive" the couple. "But if they ask for police protection, we will try to provide it," he said.
The assurance has brought little hope to either the couple or the NCW. "They did nothing when the two were pulled out of the car," said former NCW member Padma Seth, who was part of the team that went to Sudaka. "How can we expect the couple to have faith in the police now?"

In any case, NCW members alleged, the Haryana Police had not bothered to reply to their letters. The only letter they received was a copy of the SP's letter of August last year to the home ministry as the then Home Minister Indrajit Gupta had called for a report. However, both Khusi Ram and DIG P.V. Rathi maintained that they had responded to NCW's letters. Requests to see these letters were turned down by the SP on the ground that "official documents cannot be shown to the press".

The NCW had also approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court last year and then the Supreme Court to release Maimon from Nari Niketan and unite the couple. On September 9 the Supreme Court paved the way for the lovers to live together.

But this violent love story is not destined for a tame climax on a piece of paper. Sudaka clearly does not believe in forgetting the past. And Idris is convinced that once the villagers get to know about the court verdict, they will descend on the capital and hunt the couple down.

The two have stealthily built their love nest in a dingy windowless room in an obscure colony of Delhi. A room, whose door opens only to a few trusted ones. An unfamiliar knock on the door is not just a sound, it is akin to a death-knell.

Not surprisingly, the strain of being on the run has begun to tell. Idris, who weighed 65 kg and took pride in his sartorial elegance, is now a skeletal frame clad in a dirty trouser and dirtier shirt. His eyes do not stop darting even for a moment. His ears are alert and his feet, ready to spring into action.

Fear is writ large on Maimon's face, but there is also a quiet determination. "I will be with him," she says as her husband looks at her with unconcealed admiration. "What stuff is she made of, I wonder. You cannot imagine the torture she has undergone. But she is brave and is the source of my courage," says Idris, his admiring gaze lingering on her blushing countenance.

Love stories either have a happy ending or a tragic one, but the story of Idris and Maimon's love is dogged by a question mark. Will Maimon ever be able to fulfil her simple desire, of "wanting to open the door of my house without fear?"

Christians, God will hold us responsible if we do not stand in the Gap for our nation (Ezekiel 22:23-31)

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