Joseph Pawar and Ayushi Wani
Written by Milind Ghatwai | Posted: October 12, 2014 12:30 am | Updated: October 12, 2014 8:13 am
Pawar and Ayushi Wani’s ‘marriage’ was ‘invalidated’ after 5 days in
this MP town with rising Hindu right-wing activism. With police citing a
court order, the two don’t know where to go for answers, says Milind Ghatwai
hai to poora karenge (If I’ve loved, I’ll go the distance),” says
Joseph Pawar, speaking at an undisclosed location in Indore. That’s what
Ayushi Wani, 35 km away at a shelter home in Ujjain, is counting on.
for five days, the 22-year-old Christian youth and the 19-year-old
Hindu girl were separated forcibly on October 1 and their wedding
declared “invalid” after Hindu right-wing activists took to the streets
protesting against the alliance. Ayushi refused to go back to her
parents while Joseph was taken away and warned not to return to his
hometown Jobat. Ten days later, they fail to understand why it turned
out like this.
It was four years ago that the affair
began, when Ayushi and Joseph were together at a coaching institute in
Jobat. The two went to great lengths to hide it from their families.
More than the fact that they belong to different religions, they worried
about the reaction of others. Jobat is largely a town of traders, about
200 km from the nearest big city of Indore. For its population of
around 20,000, nearly 18,000 of whom are Hindus, the Thursday haat is
the most exciting part of their week. Everybody knows almost everybody
and social pressure can be hard to fight.
A decade ago,
the region had seen the campaign of the BJP and other Hindu
fundamentalist organisations against alleged conversion of tribals to
Christianity by missionaries using money and other enticements.
and Joseph had heard about the tension in the town at the time. So,
they hardly met outside the coaching institute, staying in touch over
Often, the difference between their families
would come up for discussion — his being poor and simple, hers
aggressive because of their relative wealth.
year ago, they started talking of taking the next step. Ayushi was
entering the final year of her B.Sc. at a Jobat college, while Joseph
had begun a General Nursing Midwifery course at Indore’s Index Nursing
By then, their families had discovered their
relationship. While Joseph’s sisters got around to accepting Ayushi, her
family said a straight no. They also started pressuring her to marry a
person they had identified.
On September 25, the two
slipped out of their respective colleges and ran away to Bhopal, where
they got married at an Arya Samaj temple.
The same day,
after Ayushi didn’t return from college, her family lodged a case of
kidnapping against Joseph. Soon, members of the RSS and Hindu Jagaran
Manch started protests, threatening to launch an indefinite bandh if the
couple were not traced by October 1.
They demanded that Joseph be arrested and that force be used to get Ayushi back to her parents.
the afternoon of October 1, Ayushi and Joseph, who had been traced to
Bhopal, “surrendered” at the office of the Superintendent of Police,
Alirajpur. By then, tension had spread from Jobat to this place 35 km
away. With hundreds of Hindu right-wing activists gheraoing the
Alirajpur SP’s office, the police, under pressure, declared the marriage
“invalid”, arguing that Joseph was not a Hindu and the rituals at the
Arya Samaj temple meant nothing.
When Ayushi refused to
go back to her parents, the protesters demanded that Joseph convert to
Hinduism, under the Freedom of Religion Act that mandates a one-month
prior notice before conversion. Her parents were present at the SP’s
office; his relatives were not informed, though his sisters reached on
their own after hearing about what had happened.
was driven in a police jeep to Ujjain, and moved into a shelter home
run by an NGO under a government scheme. Suspecting threat to his life,
police kept Joseph in custody before escorting him to Indore to a
relative’s place in the wee hours of the following day, accompanied by
his two sisters. Joseph was told not to return to Jobat.
became a district only in 2008 and has only two Assembly seats,
Alirajpur and Jobat, both represented by BJP MLAs. The municipal bodies
and cooperative societies in Jobat are all controlled by the BJP.
town has less than 1,000 Christians and only slightly more Muslims.
Among the Hindus, the dominating communities are Wanis and Rathods. The
Wanis are mostly traders or advocates.
Amkut, a village
in Alirajpur, last saw violence in 2004 after a minor girl’s body was
found on the premises of the CNI Church. Jobat MLA Madho Singh Dawar
claims there have been sporadic incidents since then.
Joseph’s house is located right behind the church, which is now under police protection.
is the only son and the youngest of four siblings. Their father Sunny
Jacob passed away last December, while their mother, who is paralysed,
moved out of town following the protests. Joseph and his sisters had a
difficult childhood as Jacob, partially disabled, struggled to make ends
meet from the earnings from his flour mill.
“Our father was a simple man. He never ventured out because of his disability,” says Savita Singh, Joseph’s sister.
the three sisters work as nurses, and helped fund Joseph’s education.
They had been planning to send Joseph to London to join his eldest
sister’s husband, who is also in the same profession.
Savita works as a nurse at a government hospital in Jobat, her husband
Nigam Raymond owns a poultry farm and some agricultural land. He had
sought a Congress ticket in the Assembly elections of 2013 and later
tried to fight as an Independent.
Less than a kilometre
away lives Ayushi’s family, among the more affluent families of Jobat.
Her father Rajkumar Wani runs two adjacent cloth showrooms from the
ground floor of his house. Ayushi, who has done her entire education in
Jobat, has two younger sisters.
Joseph’s sisters say
they are surprised at the courage he has shown under pressure.
Overweight as a child, he faced constant teasing.
name he was given then, ‘Dumdum’, stuck on into youth, while on his
Facebook page, he appears as a lanky youth with many posts on facing
separation and opposition in love. The only departures are a photograph
of a suicide note with a girl’s slit wrist next to it, and Amitabh
Bachchan aiming a pistol into the camera with ‘DON’ written underneath.
October 1, his Facebook page has been drawing only insults. “Jobat ke
Hindu uska intzaar kar rahe hein. Yuva Sena pooch rahi laal top kha bhag
gaya (The Hindus of Jobat are waiting for him. The Yuva Sena is asking
whether he fled after the protest),” wrote Ashish Rathod in separate
When Joseph posted a video and photograph of
his wedding ceremony, he was swamped by threats. “I deleted the post,”
Joseph says. Ironically, he smiles, he had very few friends and most of
them were Hindus.
Seeing him face such anger, Savita
says: “Joseph is so timid that even the idea of an electric current
makes him fearful. I don’t know how and where his affair began.”
about the day they were brought back to Jobat and separated, Joseph
says: “The protesters kept talking only about religion and caste.”
that his love gives him strength, he says: “They pelted stones at my
house in Jobat and threatened to burn the church. My sisters received
threats to their lives. But I am not going to budge. I want to be with
Pointing out that police did not even call
them to Alirajpur after the couple “surrendered”, Savita says: “In what
capacity were the RSS, Bajrang Dal and BJP members intervening?”
tried to make the same argument at the SP’s office, reasoning with the
protesters that Christians had not taken to the streets when there were
cases of Christian women marrying Hindu men. She says a “leader” told
her: “That’s your problem. You should have protested. Then this
(Joseph’s marriage) would not have happened.”
the first time the sisters actually met Ayushi, though they had seen her
fleetingly around town. Savita was impressed. “My brother may waiver,
but Ayushi won’t. She is such a bold girl,” says Savita.
while Joseph’s sisters have accepted Ayushi, her family shows no signs
of relenting. Her distraught father Rajkumar says he wants her to marry
within the community. “We will wait for her to return to her senses. She
even refused to recognise me at the SP office. Let her spend a few days
away and she will realise her mistake,” says the father, adding that
Ayushi’s mother is inconsolable and her blood pressure has shot up.
him why they are opposed to Joseph, and the Wanis say while they are
“pure vegetarian”, his family eats “mutton and fish”. Adds Rajkumar,
“Had we known of her affair, we would have long nipped it in the bud.”
than the Wanis, though, it is Hindu right-wing activists who are in the
forefront of the protests, insisting on talking on behalf of the
“Christians are bad people,” says Shailesh
Wani, a right-wing activist who claims to be Ayushi’s cousin. “They roam
around doing nothing. Joseph does not earn anything. If his sisters
stop giving him pocket money, how will he and Ayushi survive?”
also demands action against the Arya Samaj. “Shouldn’t they be banned
for conducting such marriages despite the court judgment?” he asks.
activists allege that unions like the one between Joseph and Ayushi are
a conspiracy to increase the Christian population. While Ayushi is an
adult now, she was “brainwashed” when she was 15 or 16, they allege.
MLA Madho Singh Dawar backs the charges, accusing Christians of luring
away Hindu girls. “Inka kaam hi hai (that’s what they do),” he says.
When asked about relationships between Hindu boys and Christian girls,
he says, “The boys don’t marry, but just ‘keep’ the girls.”
is statements such as these that worry CNI pastor Emmanuel Ariel. “The
right-wing groups feel emboldened now, thinking they won’t be harmed
either by the state or Centre. The Congress used to comment on such
matters before but after losing elections, they have stopped raising
their voice. There’s no one to keep such groups in check.”
pastor, who sought police protection, says the activists threatened to
harm the church. Wary of the fallout on the larger community, the church
didn’t get involved, he says. “Even we are against inter-religious
marriages because they create friction. But Hindu right-wing activists
should have protested before Joseph’s house and not before the church.
We did not want to get involved because it concerns an individual, not
The spokesperson of the Catholic
Bishops’ Conference, Madhya Pradesh, Fr Johny P J, however, asks how the
police can declare a marriage between two adults invalid. Even the
Church conducts such marriages without asking for caste certificates, he
says. “The only condition is that children born out of wedlock are
raised in the Christian faith.”
Retired district judge
Renu Sharma backs this, saying only courts can declare a marriage valid
or invalid. “Police may have segregated the couple to restore law and
order, but the girl, who is a major, was free to go anywhere. There was
no offence even if the marriage was declared invalid,” she notes.
if the high court has issued a guideline for marriages at Arya Samaj
temples, and the procedure was not followed in this case, only courts
can take a call on the matter, not police, she adds.
family is thinking about moving the Madhya Pradesh High Court to seek
Ayushi’s custody. Joseph claims that after the marriage at the Arya
Samaj temple, they had also gone to the Bhopal Municipal Corporation to
get it registered, suggesting it made it legal.
He won’t talk about whether he would convert to Hinduism, as demanded by the Hindu right-wing.
says he doesn’t need to, just so to please others. “What right do they
have to interfere?” she adds, talking about the protesters, some of whom
even threw stones as she was being taken away from the SP’s office in a
Sharing space at the shelter home with
two minors whose partners are in jail on “kidnapping” charges, Ayushi
says: “Some of them used to tease me by dropping hints about our affair.
I knew something would go wrong, but did not imagine things would come
to such a pass.”
When she refused to return to her
parents, her relatives and the activists told her Joseph could never
provide for her, and that he lived on Rs 2,000 given to him by his
sisters. Ayushi says money does not matter to her and that she would
rather live with Joseph than go back to her parents who, according to
her, want her to marry someone else. “They would have confined me to the
house and never allowed me to step out again.”
and crying in equal measure, Ayushi points out that she has neither the
clothes nor the jewellery of a new bride. But she is resolute that she
took the right step. Had she kept mum before the police or gone back to
her parents, she fears what the protesters would have done to Joseph.
“They wanted me to implicate him… They want Joseph behind bars,” she
Both Ayushi and Joseph worry about the future,
and how they would find a way back together from where they are now. “I
never thought something like this would happen to me,” says Joseph.
stresses she is ready to “do anything to go back to him”. And, if that
is what it takes, “I am ready to practise both religions.”
Freedom of Religion Act
amended form of the previous anti-conversion legislation. The new law,
brought in the state by the BJP after it came to power, requires those
seeking to convert and the priest presiding over the conversion to
notify a district magistrate a month in advance. The police station
concerned then has to find out if force was used or money offered for
conversion, on the basis of which the district magistrate would allow
Arya Samaj order
2013, the Madhya Pradesh High Court issued guidelines for the Arya Samaj
management to follow before allowing weddings on their premises.
Arguing that marriages without parents’ consent were creating social
problems, the court said the management should take written applications
from a would-be bride and groom, before fixing the wedding date for a
week later. The management should then inform the parents, through
registered intimation, the date and venue of the proposed ceremony, and
five relatives each from both sides should be present for it. The court
also ordered that the police station and collector of the district where
the groom and bride live should also be notified.
Special Marriage Act
Central legislation, it allows couples to marry irrespective of the
religion they belong to. Under it, marriage is a contract. Once the
couple apply, a notice, inviting objections within a month, is displayed
at the office of the collector concerned.