Some days back pictures of some women with injury marks on their body parts went viral on social media. They were literally beaten black and blue. It soon became clear that these three sisters were picked up in connection with a kidnapping case against their brother.
On September 3, one Ruful Ali of Borigaon under Burha police outpost in Darrang district eloped with a Hindu girl from nearby Titkusi village. A case was registered against Ruful Ali and subsequently the officer-in-charge of Burha police outpost, Mahendra Sharma travelled to Guwahati on September 8 to pick up Ruful and the girl allegedly kidnapped by Ruful from one of his sisters’ home.
But unable to find Ruful, SI Sharma picked up his three sisters and kept them in the police outpost for the better part of the night. The sisters alleged that the officer along with another lady police constable named Binita Bodo beat them up brutally in the name of questioning about the whereabouts of their brother. The sisters somehow managed to call Ruful Ali who surrendered and the kidnapped girl was sent back to her family. The sisters were also allowed to be taken for a preliminary medical check up.
An incident which initially seemed like a case of inter-religious love affair that culminated in eloping was soon given a dangerous communal overtone.
Multiple versions of the incident, some true and others largely exaggerated started doing the rounds on mainstream media as well as social media. Curated long facebook posts elaborating how the entire episode is a part of ‘love jihad’ was shared many times over.
Those posts spread lies like Ruful Ali had been married thrice already and he used a Hindu name to entice the young Hindu girl and his main motive was to convert the girl and hence add one more Muslim to an already exploding community which is struggling to control its high birth rate!!
The girl herself gave a very disturbing statement. She said that she was blackmailed to go with the person who is almost a decade and a half elder to her and a father to two children. She said that he hacked her phone and had some of her objectionable messages and photos.
Fearing that if those messages were sent to her parents, they might discontinue her studies she went along with him. It is surprising that a college going girl was gullible enough to assume that some messages were more crucial than her entire life. And instead of taking legal action against an alleged blackmailer, she gave into to his whims.
Interestingly the girl also claimed that the sisters were beaten up by their respective husbands and not by the police official. One is left wondering why would all the three husbands synchronize their wife beatings?? Too many things that the girl said did not add up. While writing this article, the latest development was the father of the girl accepting that she had eloped and was not kidnapped.
As soon as this side of the story was presented and loud talk shows started doubting everything from Ruful Ali’s alleged relationship to his sisters’ injuries, a torrent of intimate photos of the girl and Ruful Ali flooded the internet. Some other news channels also played the audio clips of their personal phone chats. Mudslinging, character assassination was going on full swing.
Two dominant and equally problematic views emerged from this entire episode – firstly, an assumption that it was a case of ‘love jihad’ and the girl was duped. This undermines the capability of a young woman to take informed decisions and infantilizes her. It seemed the society, certain political parties and right-wing groups were better guardians of the girl.
Secondly, those who were happily sharing the intimate pictures of the man and the girl started passing moral judgements on the girl’s character – how she was a bad girl and hence went against her parents and chose a man from a different community. None of the views took a moment to think that they were talking about two human beings who may have transcended social barriers for a higher emotion.
It is interesting that panellists on television screamed their heads out to drive home the fact that social order requires for endogamy. However, one tends to forget that inter-religious, inter-caste marriages are neither ‘unnatural’ nor illegal otherwise India would not have the Special Marriage Act.
Government itself encourages inter-caste marriages to end caste based discrimination. Cases of such marriages abound where people from different communities are married and having a good life but we choose to turn a blind eye towards these examples. We, however, jump to conclude that every inter-religious relationship is essentially a part of a larger conspiracy.
A couple of years back Hadiya from Kerala won the war of dignity and choice after a long fought legal battle. Her conversion and right to marry Shafin was upheld as fundamental rights. It was interesting that the SIT formed to investigate their case beautifully commented that only love was found but no jihad.
Despite the absence of any credible proof of large scale inter- religious marriage and forced conversions, such claims are regularly made. Inter religious couples are harassed at regular intervals to point out their ‘mistakes’ of not matching caste, community, gotra, economic status, social stratum, political affiliation, job portfolios, marksheets before choosing a life partner.
The incident in Darrang could have been sorted out at a personal level. The 19-year-old girl is still young and the man who is the elder one in the relationship should have been more responsible. Also at present what is the least talked about is the gross abuse of power by police officials.
Examples of family members of alleged criminals being picked up and tortured would remind one of incidents during the era of secret killings of Assam. Nowhere is such investigation acceptable. While it was good to see that NCW took a note of the incident, there is an urge to dilute this aspect by communalising it.
There is also a need to counsel the young girl who must have been under tremendous pressure to give contradictory statements. She should rethink her life choices and decide accordingly. Mudslinging and character assassination should immediately stop. Tomorrow if a young girl bullied by social media takes any extreme step it will count as our collective failure.