The Perils of Falling in Love in a Changing India

Anjali and Ibrahim got married in February 2018. Three months later, once their marriage certificate was in the public domain, the persecution began in earnest.

Raipur: This is the ‘desh badal raha hai (the country is changing)’ story in all its finery. It encompasses everything and makes no attempt to hide anything: communal tension, society’s attitude towards inter-community marriages, right-wing assertion on ‘deviant’ women, Beti Bachao-Sanskari Banao, the partisan attitude of the police and media, and the helplessness of the judiciary.

Anjali Jain (22) met Ibrahim (34) at a college festival and fell in love. They got married in February 2018. Ibrahim was already married when he met Anjali, but estranged from his wife whom he subsequently divorced. To seal their love, Ibrahim decided to convert to Hinduism, so that accusations of “love jihad” would be eliminated.

‘Love jihad’ is a fiction fabricated by Hindutva groups which claim Muslim young men have been systematically seducing impressionable Hindu women with a view to converting them to Islam. Despite police investigations and court-ordered inquiries –including one the Supreme Court asked the National Investigation to conduct – no evidence has emerged of the existence of this ‘conspiracy’.

They got married in an Arya Samaj temple, and Ibrahim – now Aryan Arya – brought home his bride, Anjali Arya. So far, the woman’s family was not in the know. In March, the couple applied for a marriage certificate and obtained it from Raipur, in the names of Aryan Arya and Anjali Jain, with their respective father’s names mentioned in the certificate. But the court process necessitates information becoming public and three months after they secretly got married in an Arya Samaj temple, Anjali’s father found out about their relationship. The persecution began immediately.

Also read: Safe Houses for Interfaith Couples and Cities of Refuge

The couple was separated and Anjali was allegedly thrashed every day, taken to unknown locations and given medicines which caused epileptic seizures. Weeks later, Aryan filed a habeas corpus petition in the Bilaspur high court. Anjali was found and produced in the court by the police. On being closely questioned by the then chief justice, she said that she had married Aryan of her own free will as an adult and that she wanted to live with him. The court decided to give her a choice – to either live with her parents or go to a women’s hostel and live under police protection. Despite her saying she wanted to live with her husband, she ended up in the Government Degree College Girls Hostel, Bilaspur.

While Aryan followed up with the high court to restore his conjugal rights, the new chief justice heard Anjali in his chambers for 1.5 hours and passed an order which states that a woman has every right to decide for herself and the state is duty bound to provide her security. But for the past seven months, Anjali has been living at the Sakhi Centre, Raipur because she can’t go home, she doesn’t want to go to her parents home and her husband has been jailed on an FIR lodged by her father.

The FIR says Ibrahim cheated Anjali and said he was unmarried, though he wasn’t. This is based on that fact that he ticked an incorrect box in the 25-page declaration that he signed at the Arya Samaj temple. The woman says that she knew about his marital status and had informed her family about it too, but they do not believe he was divorced or had converted to Hinduism.

This drama was not unfolding only in the two families’ homes – that’s not how ‘New India’ works. The Jain Samaj took out rallies and marches, and even held a Chhattisgarh bandh against what they insist is ‘love jihad’. I asked a member of the Jain community about why a bandh was called. He said, “The woman had said in the court that she wants to go with her parents. She is under some mysterious spell.” The GDC Hostel in Bilaspur was under 24-hour vigil by some right-wing activists when the woman was there, and now the same vigil is being observed in Raipur.

The woman’s father went to the Supreme Court against the high court order. While the Supreme Court agreed with the high court, it has so far not given a definite order. The next hearing is on October 15.

Watch: Fighting For Interfaith Couples Whose Marriages Are Attacked As ‘Love Jihad’

Meanwhile, the drama has intensified in Raipur. Ibrahim’s advocate Priyanka Shukla went to the Sakhi Centre to meet Anjali on Saturday, but was chased away by DSP Mamta Sharma and additional SP Richa Mishra. She said, “I don’t know what they were doing there when Richa is posted in Durg. I was manhandled and the woman was being threatened. I have lodged a complaint against the officers at the city Kotwali and I will raise this with the Bar Council in Bilaspur.”

The DGP, D.M. Awasthi, has been apprised of the matter, but he said, “We are bound by the court order. We have continued to protect the woman and provide her a safe house.” He also said that he had received an SMS for help from the woman some months ago, which led to her rescue from her father’s home in Dhamtari and being brought to Raipur. “As far as we are concerned, we will continue to provide her security and not let the situation deteriorate.”

The woman, meanwhile, has been writing furious Facebook posts beseeching society to accept her and Arya as they are. Her accounts have been hacked thrice, and each time she has to create a new one. Malicious rumours are being spread on the internet, about how Ibrahim has three wives and Anjali is under a spell.

Anjali’s parents are from a well-to-do family in Dhamtari, and the Jains are sticking together on this. Several appeals from liberal-minded people have fallen flat on their ears.

For anyone keeping pace with Badalta Bharat, it should be clear how this story will end. Anjali and Ibrahim’s love story is unlikely to have a happy ending.