Ara, June 15: Draped in a white silk dress that covered her from head to toe, Ruksana Parveen spoke through the tiny openings of the netted cloth that hung over her face.
“Saadi kabul hai (I consent to marry him),” she declared, piercing the momentary silence punctuated by the sound of the slow twirl of an ancient electric fan in a small room crammed with nearly 50 people who were waiting anxiously for her answer.
Ara jail erupted in fireworks of best wishes. A shower of flower petals drenched the bride and the groom, Aklak, an undertrial prisoner.
Only Ruksana’s unhappy parents turned their eyes away in embarrassment.
On an FIR filed by her parents, Aklak was arrested by the police allegedly for abducting Ruksana. In their complaint, her parents described Ruksana as a minor.
Today was not the first time the frail 18-year-old girl, who has studied till Class VII and works as a volunteer in literacy programmes, put her courage on public display.
Ruksana and Aklak, a Class IX dropout who has a shop in the village, have had a relationship for four years, their affair a source of intense social tension in their village in violent Bhojpur district where love inflames passions for revenge in families, communities.
When the boy and the girl learnt that Ruksana’s parents were making preparations for her marriage to someone else, they eloped on the night of May 30.
That very night, her parents went to the police who took only a day to find both in a guesthouse in Ara town. The girl was medically examined and handed back to her parents while Aklak was sent to jail by a lower court.
After about 10 days, during the hearing of the bail petition for Aklak last week before the Bhojpur district and sessions judge, Akhilesh Chandra, Ruksana performed her first act of bravery.
She announced in the courtroom that she had not been abducted, but had left home with Aklak of her own free adult will because she was 18 years and six months old — and not 16, as claimed by her parents. She produced her birth certificate in original.
The judge did not grant Aklak bail but asked Ruksana to get married to him in the jail itself, if she so wanted.
Ruksana did. Judicial officers and maulvis witnessed the marriage ceremony performed by a court-appointed kazi, as outside the room a few thousand jail inmates jostled for a view.
Since morning, the jail officers have been busy. “It was a festive day for us as we were making preparations for long,” said Uday Kumar Kushwaha, superintendent of the jail.
Although the marriage was simple, he said, the drama was gripping as everyone waited for the girl to say yes.
“Such scenes are rare in overcrowded Ara jail where rival gangsters keep on fighting each other,” said Anand Sharma, a social worker who was invited to watch the wedding.
Aklak’s father Liakat Hasan Khan believes the marriage has averted turmoil in their Sikarhatta-Khurd village — where first the couple’s affair had caused ripples and then a storm after the night of May 30 — though its inhabitants haven’t yet got over the jolt Ruksana delivered by daring to speak up for herself.
He took daughter-in-law Ruksana to their home. She had to leave her husband behind bars, but she was confident that Aklak would be set free at the next hearing.
“The separation is temporary, I suppose. But it is a triumph of our love,” she said.