VILLAGE WHERE A COUPLE ‘ELOPED’ AND A NEIGHBOUR WAS MURDERED
Anil Sharma (white haired in the middle) from whose mango orchard Ghulam was abducted. The charpoy was where Waqeel lay down before he died
Sohi (Bulandshahr), May 5: When Waqeel Ahmed folded his hands and declined Hindu elders' promises of security for the village's Muslims yesterday, he would have been thinking of how the latest "love jihad" controversy in Uttar Pradesh has stuck to a script so familiar to a polarised heartland.
The trend continued today, with the Rajput girl at the centre of the uproar echoing her family and accusing the Muslim boy of abducting her, a day after police had traced the couple to a Haryana village and brought them back to Bulandshahr district.
So far, the sequence of events has included day-to-day intimidation of the four Muslim families in Sohi, home to the 25-year-old Muslim boy Yusuf, ever since the duo disappeared from their neighbouring villages on April 27.
Yusuf's relatives have been tracked down even in other cities and hounded. Eventually, Yusuf's 60-year-old neighbour Ghulam Mohammed was lynched on Tuesday by a group linked to chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
(The Hindu Yuva Vahini, a militia founded in 2002 by Adityanath in his capacity as mahant of the Gorakhnath Math and since then accused in many cases of communal violence, has denied all allegations of involvement.)
Zareena Khan (on cot) and her son Yunus Khan (with turban), whose brother Yusuf Khan eloped with the Rajput girl
It's this sequence of intimidation and murder that has got all the four Muslim families in Sohi planning to leave for good, and prompted Ghulam's son Waqeel to react the way he did yesterday.
"You can take our rifles, or we can stand with our rifles and protect you. Don't leave," an elder from one of Sohi's 150 dominant Rajput and Brahmin families had told Waqeel when The Telegraph visited the village yesterday.
"This is not about Hindus and Muslims. The goons who killed your father will be punished. Eloping is bad but murder is far worse," another Hindu villager said.
Rape charge added to abduction case in Bulandshahr
New Delhi, May 6: Uttar Pradesh police have charged Yusuf Khan with rape, after the 19-year old girl he had allegedly abducted told a magistrate that he forced her to have sex with him during the week they were missing. On Friday, Bulandshahr SP G. Muniraj, who was not present during the woman's deposition, had told this paper that she told the magistrate that Khan had taken her away forcefully. Muniraj had also said, "She did not accuse him of sexual assault." On Saturday, additional SP Jagdish Sharma clarified to The Telegraph, "The hearing was in-camera. The girl said that the accused made her have sexual intercourse with him without her consent. The charge of rape has been added to the case."
Tears still streaming from eyes red with weeping, Waqeel told them: "Thakurji, you all saw the Vahini boys come every day and threaten to kill us. No one said anything then - not even the police, whom we have helped.
"Maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, some Vahini man may run me over when I'm riding my bicycle. Can you protect our children when they play under the mango trees?"
The elders' offer of security may have had to do partly with "the shame the lynching has brought upon our village", a refrain of almost every conversation this newspaper had in Sohi. But, as Waqeel pointed out, such sentiments had been rare in the immediate aftermath of the couple's disappearance.
"My child had to run away. Our neighbour is dead. All that the village men have told us since they eloped is: ' Ladka lao, ladki lao (Get the boy and the girl back)'. All they want is blood," Yusuf's bedridden mother Zareena said.
Waqeel Ahmed, son of Ghulam Mohammedwho was killed. Pictures by Pheroze L.Vincent
So frightened by the threats were the Muslims that they, with a few Hindu friends, virtually dragged Yusuf's brother-in-law Yasin from Aligarh on suspicion that he had helped the couple "elope" and handed him over to the police on April 30.
Yasin was questioned and released after he professed innocence but Ghulam, unrelated to Yusuf, wasn't so lucky. He was beaten to death in a mango orchard on Tuesday.
Three people have been arrested but prime accused Govendra, who Yusuf's neighbours say was the Vahini's sole representative in Sohi, is in hiding.
Eventually, a joint raid by the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team of Bulandshahr police and the Palwal police from Haryana's Hathin block "recovered" the couple at 2.30am on Thursday.
The boy and the girl gave themselves up peacefully at the home of Yusuf's relative Shaukeen, police sources said. They added that there had been no resistance at Hathin, a crime hub where police raids can trigger violence.
After being brought back to Bulandshahr, the couple were taken into protective custody, with the girl lodged at the civil hospital, district superintendent of police G. Muniraj said.
The girl was brought before a magistrate in Bulandshahr town around noon today - after more than a day in police custody, with Muniraj blaming the delay in court production on her lengthy medical examination.
"She gave a statement to the chief judicial magistrate saying that he (Yusuf) had forcibly taken her away. She did not accuse him of sexual assault," Muniraj said.
He said Yusuf had been arrested on kidnapping charges. "He may apply for bail. We ordinarily have up to 180 days to file a chargesheet."
Initially, the officer had said that Yusuf could be in more trouble if the girl turned out to be a minor, and that "any marriage with a minor will not be valid". Today, Muniraj said her age hadn't been established yet but she seemed to be "19 or 20".
She was "handed over to her parents in the afternoon on condition that they will be held responsible if any harm came to her", Muniraj added. The girl is back in her village of Fazalpur.
In Sohi, less than 5km away, Yusuf, who had returned on April 11 after a two-year stint doing "odd jobs in Saudi Arabia", seemed a deeply unpopular man among both communities.
A Rajput woman tending to Ghulam's grieving widow Salaman, who has given up food, said: "Yusuf can't even sign his name properly, but he came back from Saudi Arabia with the airs of a hero, with a new hairstyle and shades."
Yusuf's brother Yunus said: "He had accumulated loans of Rs 5 lakh-plus in the area. The creditors are harassing us but he has shown no interest in repaying them. When we handed over Yasin to the police, he called me up and threatened me. It's better they keep him locked up. The Vahini will kill him and the rest of us too if he ever gets out."
In a village where the Muslims, all landless peasants, say they "don't raise their eyes" in front of the upper castes, inter-faith love is unimaginable. Conversations with Sohi's Hindu and Muslim youths provided hints how Yusuf had pulled it off.
"Yusuf had such confidence. I don't think he studied beyond Class II. He was absolutely useless at farming but he learnt the craft of haircutting and worked at a barber's shop in Pahasu (a nearby town). Style maarta tha (he was a dandy)," neighbour Arun Singh said.
Yusuf's friends said he owed money to every other person in Pahasu, including his employer who was from the girl's village.
"The girl used to park her bicycle at the shop. They met there four years ago. People had seen them talk but we had never imagined Yusuf would bring qayamat (doomsday) on us by falling in love with that Rajput girl," one of his neighbours said.
Bipin Pratap Singh, a local Rajput whom the village's Muslims call their pillar of strength, said: "We all went to school together but only I completed school. The Vahini boys call me a traitor for hanging around with Muslims, but how can I betray my friends?"
He said: "When we went to Aligarh and brought back Yasin, he never gave up Yusuf's location even after we shook him up, although Yusuf owes him Rs 30,000.
"Yusuf wasn't in India for two years, yet he came back and put everyone at risk for that girl. He was here for hardly a fortnight and still managed to elope without giving anybody a hint."
But communal tensions run deep in this maze of villages hidden behind mango and eucalyptus plantations, where marijuana hedges the dirt tracks that lead to them.
"You are here because a Muslim is dead," said Anil Sharma, the employer whom a dying Ghulam had called.
Ghulam had been working in Sharma's orchard when a group of half-a-dozen people took him to another orchard, beat him up and left. Receiving Ghulam's call, Sharma and others had brought him back but he died soon after.
"A few years ago, some local people had caught a Jatav (Dalit) stealing mangoes. He was tied upside down to a tree and beaten in front of the whole village. There was no media problem," Sharma said.
"The boys did not want to kill him (Ghulam). They pushed him and he must have died because he had diabetes."
Muniraj said Ghulam had died of "haemorrhage and shock due to ante-mortem injury".
Jagdish Sharma, additional superintendent of police (rural), said his men had been investigating three cases of alleged inter-faith abduction or elopement and had found all the three girls. "Now we can devote all our energy to nabbing Govendra."
Retired college principal Balbir Singh, a Rajput elder in Sohi, said: "Ghulam was the most respected among them (Muslims). The Vahini did not exist here before the BJP came to power, but there were others like the Bajrang Dal."
The Vahini had been confined largely to eastern Uttar Pradesh but has expanded its base rapidly across the state since Adityanath became chief minister on March 19.
"Normally, there is some tension after an elopement, but this time the politicians and these groups have completely communalised the area. But the village has decided to defend the Muslims," Singh said.
The Muslims have, however, made up their mind to leave.