“Today we are very happy,” quips an emotional Zakir*.
Zakir and Sneha’s* love story is nothing short of a Bollywood saga. A classic case of a boy and girl falling in love with each other, despite the religious divide.
Perhaps, if it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers, their turbulent love story wouldn’t have see the light of day.
Facebook Plays Cupid
It all began after Zakir sent Sneha a friend request on Facebook. They would start chatting in the evening that would continue late into the night. “I didn’t even the person I was talking to was a boy or a girl,” says Zakir. After a couple of months, he gathered the courage to ask her for her phone number on the pretext of a song dedication. The song was “ O Humnava” from the movie Humari Adhuri Kahani.
The online chatting changed to phone texting. And once they met, love blossomed between them.
Sneha’s family had always warned her about staying away from Muslims. She grew up with the idea that Muslims are bad people, and that they are ‘terrorists’ and ‘create terror in the hearts of other castes’. In her school, if she made Muslim friends and had lunch with them, her other Hindu friends would simply boycott her.
She always lived in this dichotomy, but could never understand why she and her friends felt this way. And once she met Zakir and started talking to him, she came to realise that he was the best guy she had ever met. Contrary to what her family and friends had told her, he was honest and adorable.
Zakir’s family, on the other hand, was not as strict. “Saans lene ki jagah thi, at least,” (we had the space to breathe, at least).
"After months of talking and meeting each other for a few months, she proposed to me and I accepted!" - ZakirThe Night At The Graveyard
But like any other tale of romance divided by religion, Sneha and Zakir saw their fair share of problems.
"My father dragged me inside the house by pulling my hair and locked me inside the room" - Sneha
She asked her parents what her fault was but to no avail. The family had found out about her relationship with Zakir.
The situation seemed even more hopeless after she overheard a phone conversation between her father and uncle where they spoke of getting her married in the next 10 days.
She kept crying for two days and decided that she couldn’t let all this happen to her. Finally, she made a decision to run away.
Zakir wasn’t aware of the situation at her place till he got a phone call from Sneha. He had heard her voice after two days which made him emotional and without wasting anymore time, he left to meet her.
After they met, she broke the news to him that she had run away from home. Zakir took her to a graveyard, confident that her family wouldn’t look for them there.
They spent the night at a graveyard. Next day, they left for his cousin’s place who offered to help.
The Never-Ending Train Journey
With a debit card and Rs 40,000 in his bank account, Zakir and Sneha took a train to Dibrugarh where his cousin lived. His brother let them stay for around 20 days, but soon after, he became greedy and started demanding for more money. Zakir and Sneha were desperate and gave him the ATM card. However, they requested him not to use the card just yet, as the police would have been able to trace their location.
The brother however, did not wait and withdrew all the money and that gave away Zakir and Sneha’s location. On the run once again, they headed for Kolkata in a train, where they survived the journey on a packet of Good Day biscuits.
"Despite the hard times, we never blamed each other for what was happening to us. The circumstances of our relationship made us cry, but then we would think of the good times we had spent together, and that made us smile. We were not giving up. It was just not an option for us. " - SnehaHelp Came From Where It Was Least Expected
With no job, no money and no roof over their head, the two were on the verge of a breakdown. Feeling dejected, they felt they only had two options – either to return home, where their parents would have them killed, or to commit suicide.
But all was not lost and help came from strangers when it was least expected.
A family they met on the train offered to help. They heard their side of the story and felt bad for the young couple. The family took them to their house where they stayed for almost two months. However, their stay at this relief adobe was also short-lived as the police had traced their location once again.
Zakir searched online for help for interfaith couples. He found out about an NGO called Dhanak, an organisation that provides help to interfaith and inter-religious couples. Asif Iqbal, the co-founder and general secretary of Dhanak, and his volunteers helped them find a house and a job.
Special Marriage Act allows interfaith couples to marry without conversion, but ironically, it becomes a big hurdle. It mandates a 30-day notice period before the marriage can take place. A notice with names, full address, and sometimes even a photograph is sent out. A notice is also sent to the people’s residential address.
As Zakir and Sneha didn’t want their families to find out, one of them had to convert. Zakir converted into Hinduism, and they got married under the Hindu Marriage Act.
Despite their long struggle, they never thought of giving up and now they are happily married.
“When she makes breakfast, I run the bath. When she takes a bath, I make chapatis, then we both leave for work. We are very happy and thankful to the NGO.”
*Names have been changed to protect the couple’s identity.
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