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New Delhi: A Muslim family in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh city has claimed that shops owned by them were partially bulldozed on July 4 after it came to be known that a member of the family is in an inter-faith relationship with a Hindu woman. Police have denied this claim but admitted that it is trying to catch the couple.
Rizwan* has been in a relationship with a Hindu woman, Smriti*, belonging to the Thakur community for the past two years. His family alleges that the woman’s family has repeatedly issued threats to them, claiming that she is a minor. Documents accessed by The Wire show that she is 20 years old.
Speaking to The Wire, Rizwan’s sister Sana says that on June 14, Rizwan and Smriti left their houses, with the intention of living together.
Smriti’s family lodged a complaint against Rizwan, on the basis of which an FIR was registered on the same day, June 14. Charges included offences of kidnapping, criminal intimidation and punishment for criminal breach of trust.
“Smriti’s family came over to our house, threatening us while asking us to give them details of their whereabouts. My father was summoned on June 15 and kept in police custody for six days over the issue. I went to the station too and after a settlement with the police my father was released,” says Sana.
On July 2, the family alleges, police arrived at their house and destroyed the main gate, a cooler kept nearby and a charpoi .
On the same day, tenants of one of Rizwan’s maternal uncles’ properties were asked to vacate the shops they rented, which were located near the police lines.
“Our uncles have 3-4 small shops right outside the police lines. Those in the shops were asked to vacate the premises and were told a bulldozer will be demolishing the complex,” says Sana.
Early on July 4, while it was still dark, police along with local administration allegedly cut off CCTV camera connections and electricity. They then destroyed the shops’ staircases, front porch and the pavement leading to the shops, Sana alleges.
“This is clearly in revenge. Smriti’s family is influential. We are being harassed consistently,” she says.
Smriti herself has been releasing videos declaring that our family is in no way to blame, Sana says.
Smriti has not only refuted her family’s claim that she is a minor, but had also written to the Superintendent of Police about their case, admitting on stamp paper that they have entered into a live-in relationship out of their own free will.
In a video accessed by The Wire, Smriti states, “I have left with the man out of my own will and under no circumstance of coercion. If police, administration or any one tortures my partner’s family or friends we will commit suicide.”
Smriti also says in the video that she and her partner have not taken anything from her family. “We don’t want anything. We just want to live,” she is heard saying.
Pratapgarh Circle Officer, Ajay Kumar Pandey, who is investigating the case, tells The Wire that police are keen to nab the couple.
“For the past 10 days we have been trying to find the couple, in Gujarat, Mumbai, everywhere. We will nab them soon. They don’t have a genuine marriage certificate. If they come to us and give us a statement, then it can be disposed off. Under Section 164 of the CrPc they need to come and give us their statement because there is an FIR against them. It is not a legal marriage, it is merely a notary document,” Pandey said.
It is legal for adult men and women to live together outside of marriage, as several courts have upheld.
Uncle taken into custody
After the demolition on July 4, very early in the morning, one of Rizwan and Sana’s uncles, Mohammad Zahid, was also taken into custody, where he remained for two days.
A writ petition was also moved on behalf of Zahid at the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court, lawyer Shujatullah Khan confirms.
His sister-in-law Salma says that members of Smriti’s family arrived at their house on July 2 and threatened them with the very action that was taken on July 4.
“On Saturday they arrived at the shops and told our tenants to either ensure that Smriti comes back home or else the shops will be broken down. The next day was a Sunday so we couldn’t lodge a complaint. In the middle of the night and within 10 minutes, they cut electricity and CCTV cameras and demolished our shops. Those who were witness to the demolition confirmed to us that the police was present. One bulldozer carried out the demolition. Our complex is right in front of Police Line gate. They stopped traffic on both sides to ensure the demolitions took place smoothly,” Salma says.
Salma says that they have owned the property generationally and did not receive any notice from authorities prior to the demolition at all.
Police have denied all claims of demolitions.
Circle Officer Pandey said, “Why would the police do that? This is all rhetoric.” Pandey did not say more about who could then have destroyed the shops.
*Name changed to protect identities.