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Umar or Umesh, all’s unfair in love
- Youths in MP change faith to marry but zealots refuse to give up

Bhopal, April 11: Umar became Umesh and Rehan answers to the name of Rohan Kumar.

That is what it takes to marry the girl of your choice in Madhya Pradesh. Or, so they thought.

The two had joined a growing list of youths who had converted from Islam so that they can marry Hindu girls without being hounded by zealots and harassed by police.

But the conversions have left the sword arms of the ruling BJP — the Bajrang Dal and the VHP — bristling with rage. “They are driven by lust and are only using conversion as a ploy to turn innocent Hindus into Muslims later,” said Durgesh Keswani, the convener of the Hindu Kanya Raksha Samiti, an umbrella organisation working to “protect” Hindu girls.

If the Sangh outfits are fuming, the police are doing all they can to ensure the lovers don’t have it easy. Pressure was piled on the 22-year-old Umar (Umesh) to turn himself in. When he didn’t, his brother Shakeel was detained. He was released only after a TV channel reported the harassment.

Relief came Umar and his wife Priyanka’s way today when Bombay High Court recognised their marriage. It asked Bhopal superintendent of police Anant Kumar Singh to explain why action should not be taken against him for “harassing and intimidating” the couple.

Singh had sent a team to Mumbai and lodged an FIR charging Umar with kidnapping Priyanka on a complaint from her parents. The couple had fled to Mumbai after tying the knot.

Last night, the moral guardians went a step further: a meeting of the Sindhi community decreed what their girls should be wearing and how they should move around.

“We have asked parents not to provide young girls mobiles and scooters. The girls should not cover their heads so that they can be recognised by well-wishers,” said local leader Bhagwandas Sabnani, an associate of Uma Bharti.

After the court order in favour of Umar left little scope for arm-twisting, Bajrang Dal convener Devendra Yadav targeted Hindu priests who solemnised such marriages.

He said Umar and Rehan’s conversion was “incomplete” as they had not given a month’s notice, mandatory under Madhya Pradesh’s anti-conversion law. Apparently, priests are also expected to give a 15-day notice.

Unlike Umar, Rehan is on the run with his wife, but four of his relatives are reportedly under illegal detention. Bhopal IG Sanjeev Singh denied the detention, but said the police have a right to “question anybody on the basis of a complaint filed by an aggrieved party”.

A few months ago, the Bajrang Dal and the Dharma Sena had prevented the marriage of a 37-year-old Christian rickshaw-puller with a polio-hit Hindu woman in Jabalpur, saying inducements had been offered to the woman for conversion. District authorities kept postponing the marriage — until the Congress and governor Balram Jakhar intervened.

In neighbourhoods of Bhopal with a mixed population, elopement is not uncommon, but inter-faith marriages are rare. Muftis and state-run masjid committees refuse to solemnise inter-community marriages, unless the district collector clears it. “We are law-abiding citizens, so we don’t do anything to violate the law or spoil communal harmony,” says Mufti Abdul Latif, the qazi of Bhopal.

Left with few options, love-struck Muslim boys have now started changing their faith. But Syed Yusuf Zai, an influential leader of the Jamait-e-Ulema, doesn’t see this trend as a healthy one. “Any conversion that is driven by a motive other than love for God is improper.”

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