A Hindu woman decided to marry a Muslim man on 17 May, and Haryana's Mewat has been on the boil ever since.
Labelling the marriage 'love jihad’, right-wing Hindu outfits as well as the girl's family, had erected road blockades, which had to be pushed back with a lathi-charge by police. This was followed by three dharnas and three mahapanchayats over a span of 10 days.
On 20 August, in a video that has gone viral, 19-year-old Neha clearly stated that she has married 32-year-old Akil of her own volition. Despite this, the police continue to investigate a case of kidnapping registered by her parents. Residents of the boy's village, called Chota Siddhravat in Firozpur Jhirka, have been living in fear since the police got involved.
Individuals from civil society – mostly Muslims – held meetings to find ways to calm the escalating tensions, but no one from the protesting Hindu outfits turned up.
But these events have also exposed disunity within the BJP in Haryana, which is going to polls in a few months. By raking up communal issues, some BJP leaders have tried to hurt the Muslim support base of their own leaders in Mewat.
The Muslim MLAs are Zakir Hussain from Nuh, Naseem Ahmed from Ferozpur Jhirka and Rahish Khan from Punahana, all of whom have joined the BJP only in the past few months.
The Quint traveled to Mewat to understand how, amidst increasing communal tension, politicians are fanning the flames to further their own ends.
Inside the Hindu Kranti Dal Meeting
Over 23-25 August, mahapanchayats were called in Mewat over this communal dispute. BJP workers claimed that over 1,000 people were in attendance – all Hindus, because Muslims refused to attend. Why?
"“To get the license to enter the mahapanchayat, one had to scream Jai Shri Ram a few times and wear a big tilak on their forehead.”" - Saleem, Resident, Firozpur Jhirka
Saleem was denied entry because he refused to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’, as were others who refused to chant it.
The agitators have found support under the aegis of the Hindu Kranti Dal. The Dal has even asked Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar to step in.
Present in the crowd at one of the mahapanchayats were Gurugram BJP-incharge Kulbhushan Bhardwaj, BJP’s Jaswant Goyal from Mewat, Karni Sena in-charge for Haryana Rana, media head of Gurugram Hindu Kranti Dal Rajiv Mittal. Members of the Hindu Krant Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad were also present. They gave the Muslims an ultimatum of 24 hours to return ‘their’ daughter and then deliberate on other pending matters. What are these matters?
Rana, a Karni Sena member, said at the gathering,
"“Hum eeth ka jawaab pathar se denge, 24 ghanta hai jihaadiyo ke paas ladki vapas karne ke liye (We will respond to them in kind. The jihadis have 24 hours to return our daughter). Then we will discuss other big issues of gau hatya, love jihad and conversions. These issues have persisted in this area for over 70 years. We are here today for the issue of love jihad, after that, whatever directions are given by our elders, we will act upon it.”"
Harish Singh, who came all the way from Kurukshetra to attend the mahapanchayat, said, "When there can be a law on teen talaq, then in these cases where the woman is converted forcibly, a law should be made on that as well."
In her video, Neha says she has not converted and that her husband does not force her to practice Islam.
BJP’s Faultlines Exposed Ahead of Polls
Sources inside the BJP told The Quint that there are several people in the party who are resentful of the three new Muslim MLAs, Zakir Hussain of Nuh, Naseem Ahmed of Ferozpur Jhirka and Punhana MLA Rahish Khan.
Speaking to The Quint, Gurugram BJP-incharge Bhardwaj said, “Teeno ke teeno MLA dalaal hai (all three MLAs are agents). They do not stand for justice and they practise communal politics. When something wrong happens against a Muslim, they raise their voice, but when it comes to a Hindu, they don’t.”
Two BJP and RSS party workers from Mewat also told The Quint that these three MLAs joined the BJP only because they did not have ground support.
"“The fact that the other MLAs are raking up this communal issue, is to hurt their [Muslim MLAs’] Muslim voter base directly. They think, because they are Hindus, they have a monopoly on the BJP. They are insecure, they want to hurt their support base so that they don’t win the next time.”" - Party Worker, requesting anonymity
The BJP has never been popular in Haryana's Mewat. In the 2014 Haryana state polls, the BJP had fielded only two candidates, both Meo Muslims from the Mewat district: Iqbal from Punhana seat and Alam from Ferozepur Jhirka. Iqbal scraped by in third and Alam came a distance fourth.
"Is baar aur bhi bade chehere aaye hai BJP mein. Is Fiza ko kharaab karne ke liye aisa kaam kiya hai inhone (This time there are even bigger Muslim faces who have joined the BJP. To ruin their chances, these people are holding such demonstrations)," the other party worker said.
BJP’s unpopularity in Mewat was also seen in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls as well. Despite the BJP Lok Sabha candidate winning in the Gurugram Lok Sabha constituency, in three of its Assembly constituencies spread across Mewat, it was the Congress’ Captain Ajay Yadav who had a substantial lead over the BJP candidate.
Residents of Groom’s Village Live in Distress
Back in Akil's village, where about 500 Muslims live, things are tense. The girl's family has filed a kidnapping case, so the police have been making regular visits to the village.
"They are saying the girl was kidnapped. The police keep coming here and banging on our doors. What did we do in all this? They interrogate us and behave rudely. We are scared for our cattle and tractors. They broke this bike and kitchen utensils of mine as well," Irfan* told The Quint.
To escape the police at night, villagers go into the darkness, mosquitoes and animal dung, a few kilometres away in the jungles.
"“Someone screams that the police has arrived and all of us leave our homes and head straight to the jungle. We take these small kids with us to the forests and lie low till we are certain the police have left.”" - Samiya*, Village Resident
"I have sent all my buffaloes away to my sister's place, and I’ve had to park my tractor deep in the jungle. Nothing is safe," says 66-year-old Rabir Khan*.
Cattle in the village are conspicuous by their absence. Tractors have been hidden in the jungles. Parents have sent their kids to stay with their relatives. Since Akil's marriage to Neha, the family of nine has been on the run, fearing for their lives – their home lies empty.
Muslim Community Organises Urgent Meet
After 10 days of tensions, on 26 August, over 100 members of the Muslim community got together to discuss what they should do.
"“When they say things like they will take a collective decision and act upon what they want to do about issues of ‘love jihad’ and the killing of cows, we are afraid they are planning something big ahead of these polls.”" - Ramzan Choudhary, Head of the All India Mewati Samaj, told The Quint.
Assembly elections are due in Haryana later this year.
Most Muslims believed that the administration itself was working with these Hindu outfits.
"Senior police officials were present in the crowd [at the mahapanchayat]. Why did they allow such inflammatory speeches? It has gone on for almost 10 days and the administration has not stopped them," Mohammad Ibrahim, an advocate from Ferozpur Jhirka said.
"“The Hindus held dharnas where they had to be dispersed via a lathi charge. They have also held mahapanchayats where Hindus from outside the region have joined. They came in buses from adjoining districts, including Haryana and Rajasthan, and screamed Jai Shri Ram every time they crossed Muslim-dominated regions.”" - Ibrahim
"In Punhana, they stopped outside the Imli Wali Masjid, and chanted Jai Shri Ram several times. If this is not instigation, then what is?" Nisar Ahmed, a farmer from Punhana, asked.
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