Kashmir, Srinagar — Manmeet Cool Bali had to defend her marriage in court.
A born Sikh, Bali converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man, Shahid Nazirite Bart. Her parents opposed marriage outside their community and filed police complaints against her new husband.
According to a copy of her statement reviewed by the New York Times, she testified in court last month that she was married for love, not because she was forced. A few days later, she went to New Delhi, the capital of India, and married a Sikh man.
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Religious diversity has defined India for centuries and has been recognized and protected by the national constitution. However, pagan unions are still rare, taboo, and increasingly illegal.
In states governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), numerous new laws across India are seeking to ban such unions altogether.
Although the rules apply widely, right-wing supporters of the party are required to curb the “jihad of love,” the idea that Muslim men marry women of other faiths and spread Islam. Is depicted. Critics argue that such legislation incites anti-Islamic sentiment under the government promoting Hindu nationalist agendas.
Last year, lawmakers in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, passed a law punishing marriage conversions with up to 10 years in prison. To date, few have been convicted, but 162 have been arrested under the new law.
A Hindu monk and elected official in Uttar Pradesh’s highest election, Yogiaditianas said, “The government is strict to curb love jihad, just before the state’s illegal religious conversion ordinance is passed. We have decided to take action. “
The other four states governed by the BJP have passed or introduced similar legislation.
In Kashmir, where Bali and Bart lived, members of the Sikh community challenged the legitimacy of marriage and called it “Jihad of Love.” They are promoting similar conversion prevention rules.
Proponents of such legislation say they intend to protect vulnerable women from predatory men, but experts say they remove women from their agents.
Renumishra, a lawyer and women’s rights activist in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, said:
“In general, governments and police officers have the same idea of patriarchy,” she added. “In fact, they are not enforcing the law, they are just enforcing their ideas.”
Throughout the country, vigilantes have created a vast network of local informants. They turn the police over to a planned pagan marriage.
One of the largest is Bajulandal, a brigade of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. According to Lucknow member Rakesh Verma, the group has filed dozens of police complaints against Islamic suitors or grooms.
“The root cause of this disease is the same everywhere,” Verma said. “They want to seduce Hindu women and then change their religion.”
In response to the tip, Uttar Pradesh police suspended the wedding in December. According to local police, the couple were detained and released the next day when they proved to be Muslims.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, most Indians oppose marriages outside of religion, especially women. The majority of Indian marriages (4 out of 5) are still arranged.
The opposition to pagan marriage is so widespread that in 2018 the Supreme Court of India ordered state officials to provide safe and secure homes for those who marry against the will of the community. It was.
The court said in its ruling that outsiders “cannot create a situation where such a couple would be placed in a hostile environment.”
The constitutional right to national privacy is interpreted as protecting couples from pressure, harassment and violence from families and religious groups.
Muslim Muhabit Khan and Hindu Reema Singh kept their courtship secret from their families and met for years in dark alleys, abandoned houses and desolate graveyards. Shin said her father threatened to burn her alive if she was with Khan.
In 2019, they married at a small ceremony with four guests and thought the family would eventually accept their decision. They never did, and the couple left the city of Central India in Bhopal to start a new life together in a new city.
“Hatred has overcome love in India, and I don’t think it will go anywhere anytime soon,” Khan said.
In Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, a BJP-led government passed a bill modeled after Uttar Pradesh law in March, strengthening penalties for conversions due to marriage and making it easier to obtain abolition.
The government does not “dislike love,” said state interior minister Narotham Mishra, “but opposed to jihad.”
Members of the Sikh community in Kashmir have used the cases of Bali and Bart to demand similar legislation in Jammu and Kashmir.
“We soon need a law banning pagan marriages here,” said Srinagar-based Sikh activist Jagmohan Singh Rina. “It helps save our daughters, both Muslims and Sikhs.”
At a mosque in northern Sharia in early June, 19-year-old Bali and 29-year-old Bart played Nika, a promise to obey Islamic law during marriage, in accordance with a notarized marriage agreement.
After that, Bali returned to his parents’ house and said he had been beaten many times over the relationship.
“Now my family is torturing me. If something happens to me or my husband, I’ll kill myself,” she said in a video posted on social media.
The day after she recorded the video, Bali left home and reunited with Bart.
Religious ceremonies between people of the same faith are recognized as legally valid, as after the conversion of Bert and Bali, but the couple held civil ceremonies and strengthened legal protection. I got a marriage license. The marriage agreement stated that the union was “contracted by the parties against the wishes, wills and consents of their parents.”
“Like thousands of other couples who do not share the same religious beliefs but respect each other’s beliefs, we think love creates our own little world that overcomes everything else. “It was,” said Bart. “But that very religion was the reason for our separation.”
Bali’s father filed a police complaint against Bart for kidnapping his daughter and forcing her to be converted.
On June 24, the couple turned to Srinagar police, where both were detained.
In her statement, in court, Bali recorded her testimony in front of a judiciary, proving that it was her intention to convert to Islam and marry Bart. Outside, her parents and dozens of Sikh protesters protested and demanded that she be returned to them.
It is unknown how the court ruled. The Judge refused to request a writing brush or interview. Her parents declined the interview request.
The day after the hearing, Manzinder Sinsilsa, the head of Gurdwara, the largest Sikh in New Delhi, flew to Srinagar. He picked up Bali with her parents and helped organize her marriage to another man, the Sikhs. Following the ceremony, Silsa flew to Delhi with the couple.
“It would be wrong to say I convinced her,” Silsa said. “If something went wrong, she should have said.”
A written request for an interview with Bali was sent via Silsa. He said she didn’t want to talk.
“She really collapsed,” he said, reiterating Balinese parents’ allegations that her daughter was kidnapped and forced to marry Bart.
Four days after Bali left for Delhi, Bart was released from police detention.
At his home in Srinagar, he is fighting kidnapping. He said he was preparing a court battle to get her back, but he feared that the disapproval of the Sikh community would make their separation permanent.
“If she comes back and tells the judge that she’s happy with the man, I accept my destiny,” he said.
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