India-controlled Kashmir Srinagar – For more than a week, a part of the Sikh minority in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region has been protesting what they called the “forced conversion” of two women married to Muslim men-this statement was denied by police officials and the men’s family members Who says unions are marriages of different faiths?
The 19-year-old Sikh woman Manmeet Kaur and her 29-year-old partner Shahid Nazir Bhat are residents of Srinagar, a major city in the Muslim-majority region. According to their families and police, they fled their homes on June 21. Policemen.
After the woman’s family filed a complaint, Bhat was accused of kidnapping the Sikh woman.
Police officials told Al Jazeera that the couple surrendered on June 24 and were detained at different police stations in Srinagar.
Two days later, Manmeet issued a statement to a judge of the Srinagar court, denying her family’s allegations that Bhat had kidnapped her.
Officials said that after Manmit converted and changed her name to Zoya, the two got married in a secret Islamic ceremony.
When Kaul made a statement before the judge, dozens of members of the Sikh community and Manmite’s parents gathered outside the court and demanded that she be handed over to his family.
That night, Manmeet was handed over to her parents by the police, while Bhat was still detained.
The next day, on June 27, hundreds of Sikhs gathered in Srinagar, claiming that two women in the community had “forcibly converted” to Islam. Areas that have lived in harmony have caused tensions.
Sikhs make up about 2% of the Indian-controlled Kashmir population and are an important minority group. Despite decades of armed rebellion against Indian rule, they have not left this turbulent area.
Most Sikhs live in villages in the turbulent south and north of Kashmir, where the conflict is most intense.
‘Love for 15 years’
Another Sikh woman at the center of the ongoing storm is 29-year-old Danmeet Kour. She fell in love with her high school classmate, a 30-year-old Muslim named Muzaffar Shaban, who has been 15 years old.
In a telephone interview with Al Jazeera, Danmit said that she married Saban in June 2014 under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), which is a provision in the Indian Constitution that allows interfaith marriage.
“I converted to Islam in 2012 and I married my boyfriend two years ago. This is the wish of both of us, no one forced me. This is my decision because the Indian Constitution gives me the right to choose a partner,” She told Al Jazeera.
But Danmit, who has a master’s degree in political science, didn’t tell his family about marrying Shaban until last month.
She said that she left home to live with Shaban on June 6 and told her family not to look for her because she wanted to live with her husband.
But her family called the police and found the couple within two hours, she said. Shaban was arrested on charges of kidnapping, and Danmit was handed over to her parents.
Danmit said that her family took her to Punjab, a Sikh-majority state in western India, where she claimed that “multiple groups encountered her and tried to influence her decision and forced her to issue a statement against her husband” .
“I received death threats. But I told those people in Punjab, my family and everyone else that I would only record my statement in front of the court judge,” Danmit told Al Jazeera.
For nearly a month, Shaban has been in prison in Srinagar.
After returning from Punjab, Danmit was taken to the local court on June 26, where she issued a statement saying that her family had falsely accused her husband of kidnapping and that she should be protected by the police.
“I just want to live with my in-laws and I don’t want to return to my parents,” she said in court.
“Forcibly married” with community men
For more than a week, these two marriages of different faiths triggered protests and press conferences from Sikh groups and political leaders.
Some Sikh activists accused Muslim men of converting Sikh women at “gun”, and demanded the enactment of “anti-conversion” laws and prohibiting marriages of different faiths.
Dozens of members of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-a Sikh-centric party-including former Delhi lawmaker Manjinder Singh Sirsa, arrived in the area and accused Kashmiri Muslim men of “forcing Sikh girls to convert.”
Thanks to Sangat for welcoming the Sikh daughter Manmit Kaur from Srinagar. She was forced to convert, but she regained her freedom. She came to Delhi with us today to receive blessings and thank Sangat for supporting her family: SAD leader Manjinder S Sirsa pic.twitter.com/uKYoDysmFM
-ANI (@ANI) June 29, 2021
At a press conference on Monday, Sirsa, who is also a spokesperson for the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) Delhi, claimed that Manmeet was a “minor” and that he was “with a 60-year-old person.”
On Tuesday, Sirsa announced that Manmeet had married a man in their community named Sukhbir Singh “as she wished.” He shared photos of Manmeet wearing traditional costumes with her “Sikh husband” and other men in a Sikh temple.
But so far, Manmette has not disclosed whether she was married to a Sikh, and if so, whether she was forced to marry.
At the same time, feminists and activists across India criticized her for her “forced marriage” and demanded action against those who arranged the marriage.
However, the Sikh leader of India-controlled Kashmir warned that non-local community leaders such as Silsa, who are close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are using the dispute to create “community divisions and hatred in the region”.
Although the local Sikh leader Jagmohan Singh Raina called for legislation to prohibit “compulsory conversion,” he also felt that “outsiders are trying to take advantage of the situation between the two communities in the area.”
“Our children go abroad (Kashmir) to study, and they also marry in other faiths. But we want the anti-conversion law. It applies to Muslims as well as Sikhs and other communities. This kind of action is needed here, and we ask everyone Do this,” he told Al Jazeera.
“But I also warn that some people want to use this incident to slander Kashmir and play politics on this ground. We will not allow any differences between Muslims and Sikhs.”
The law against inter-religious marriages has come into effect in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The hardline chief minister Yogi Adityanath is known for his anti-Muslim hate speech.
In November last year, the state also took the lead in passing a legislation prohibiting “illegal conversion” by force, fraud or marriage.
The law came into effect after some Muslim men in India were accused of “love jihad,” an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that has been circulated by right-wing Hindu groups in India for more than 10 years, accusing Muslims of inducing Hindu women to marry in order to force them to convert to Islam. teach.
But activists said that the country’s constitution allows marriages of different faiths, and women should freely choose who they want to marry.
In February this year, disputes broke out in the marriage of a cross-caste couple in Karnataka, southern India. The couple appealed to the Supreme Court for help. The Supreme Court supported the right of adults to choose their partners and stated that “it is time for society to learn to accept marriages of different castes and beliefs without restraining the couple.”
“Inter-religious marriage is as old as the marriage system,” Sanan Sutilat Wazir, a rights activist based in India-controlled Jammu City, Kashmir, told Al Jazeera.
He said: “‘Love Jihad’ is just an anti-minority political thought that can interfere with personal life and choices.” He added that it can make people the target of right-wing security organizations.
Wazir said that “political intervention in issues related to love and marriage” created “a social constitution for women in which their initiative is compromised.”
Meanwhile, at Bhat’s home in Srinagar, his family said that he married a Muslim woman in 2012 and has a 6-year-old daughter. They divorced after two years of marriage, and Bhat has maintained a relationship with Manmeet ever since.
“On June 21, he went out for a walk in the morning. Two days later, the police visited us and then we learned that he was detained,” one of his aunts, who did not want to be named, told Al Jazeera.
“We knew he had a relationship. We also went to the woman’s house and told them once. But we didn’t know it would become very big,” another family member said. “We don’t want to say any more. Get him out of prison.”
Danmeet lives about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Bhats, and she said she “feels threatened and wants to live in peace”.
She has only one question to ask “all those who protest and fabricate false stories” about her marriage: “Why can’t they let an adult woman make a decision for herself?”