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MP High Court Grants Protection to Interfaith Couple After Muslim Partner’s House, Shops Razed

Kashif Kakvi |
This is the fourth case in the last three months when the court provided protection to interfaith couples who had eloped to marry.
MP High Court Grants Protection to Interfaith Couple After Muslim Partner’s House, Shops Razed

Bhopal: Almost two weeks after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Madhya Pradesh (MP) demolished a house and three shops belonging to the father of Asif Khan, who had eloped with Sakshi Sahu on April 7, in Dindori district terming them “illegal”, the Jabalpur Bench of the High Court (HC) granted protection to the interfaith couple on Monday.

Hearing a petition filed by Sahu (22), Justice Nandita Dubey pointed out that the petitioner is a major who willingly married Khan. “Being citizens of India, they have the right to choose the life partner of their choice. The petitioner has clarified before the court that she was not kidnapped, as claimed by her family, and had rather gone willingly with Asif,” Justice Dubey observed.

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The action against Khan’s father Halim Khan was taken after Sahu’s brother lodged a first information report (FIR) against the 22-year-old Muslim for “kidnapping to compel the woman into marriage”.

Sahu and Khan are among the four couples granted relief by the HC in the last three months. Gulzar Khan and Arti Sahu, a resident of Jabalpur, were forcefully handed over to her parents by the Jabalpur police after they eloped and married in Mumbai in January. On February 10, Faisal Ali (23) and Deeksha Umang Arya (19), a resident of Itarsi, were provided protection by the Court.

Similarly, the HC granted relief and protection to Karan Baman (20), a resident of Bel Bagh locality of Jabalpur who had eloped with the 18-year-old daughter of Mehboob Khan, a week ago. Khan had filed a habeas corpus petition demanding his daughter be handed over back to him. Dismissing the petition on March 24, the court ordered that the woman had admitted before the court that she had gone with Karan of her free will and Khan will not use unnecessary force or pressure her.  

After MP amended the Freedom to Religion Act in 2021 prescribing a 10-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for conversion through marriage or by any other fraudulent means—alluring and converting female partners for marriage by hiding their identities—interfaith couples have been facing a lot of challenges and knocking the court’s door to stay together.

A Newsclick analysis of 21 FIRs registered under the newly passed anti-conversion law published on March 20, 2021, showed that all the 43 accused belong to either the Muslim or the Christian community.

Three days after Sahu’s brother lodged the FIR, the district administration razed the three shops outside the Khan family’s house. In the following hours, former BJP minister Om Prakash Dhurvey and Mandla district party president Narendra Singh Rajput blocked National Highway-45 demanding the demolition of Khan’s house. 

Dhurvey and Rajput ended the blockade after a team of district officials assured them of action. The following day, the single-storey house, registered in the name of Haleem in Shahpur village, was razed in the presence of more than 500 police personnel. Haleem, a small farmer, and his wife and three sons have been staying in the village for more than two decades. The family has moved out of the village since the demolition.

Justifying the demolition, Dindori subdivisional magistrate Balbir Raman told The Indian Express, “The house was demolished as it was found to be illegal by the tehsildar. There was also communal tension in the village. People wanted the house to be razed.”

When contacted by The Indian Express, tehsildar BS Thakur said that he is “on leave for 20 days”. GR Salave, who holds the charge in Thakur’s absence, said, “The details under which action has been taken are mentioned in the tehsildar’s order. Please, apply for a copy to the Lok Seva Kendra and it will be provided in three working days.”

A day after the house was demolished, a video of Sahu in which she mentions how she willingly went with Khan and pleads to chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the Dindori superintendent of police surfaced.

I am Sakshi Sahu, a resident of Shahpura in Dindori. I married Asif Khan as per Muslim customs amid opposition from my family. My husband’s family is being falsely implicated. I married him of my own will but my family is misusing facts and targeting his family. They are being tortured and their house and shops have been demolished. I urge the chief minister to help me or else both my husband and I will commit suicide,” Sahu says in the video.

The structures were demolished despite Muslim villagers submitting a memorandum to the district collector on April 7 urging the administration not to raze the house. “A criminal offence has been registered against Asif Khan on the complaint of Sahu’s kin but the chargesheet is yet to be produced in court. Instead, it was Sakshi, who had taken Asif along with her. They should be searched for and produced in court as per the rule. But the district administration is illegally using force and conspiring to demolish the house built by Asif Khan’s father Haleem Khan with much toil and labour,” the memorandum alleged.

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The memorandum further read that it had come to light that “people from a certain community are being targeted and harassed”. Pointing out that Haleem was being forcefully detained inside the police station, the memorandum further alleged: “When an offence is registered, it is up to an independent and well-functioning judiciary to decide on the matter. However, each person is taking law and order in his hand in this case.”

Irfan Malik, a member of the Jama Masjid Committee, which had submitted the memorandum, told Newsclick, “Haleem Khan’s house was not illegal but constructed on a patta allocated to him under Rajiv Gandhi Ashraya Scheme. We have a copy of the papers. The house was raised illegally.”

Malik further pointed out, “An Adivasi girl was raped and a woman of the Kashyap community eloped with a man from the Namdeo community. But the district administration did demolish their homes. Interestingly, when a BJP office-bearer from Dindori was arrested on charges of gang-raping a minor girl in Bhopal on September 8, 2021, his hotels and restaurants were not demolished. The targeting of a particular community is evident.”

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