Where Love is a 'Crime': Nikki Yadav's Murder Bares Caste Fault Lines in Mitraon

In Mitraon, where Sahil Gehlot allegedly killed his wife Nikki Yadav, inter-caste couples fear nothing has changed.

7 min read
Where Love is a 'Crime': Nikki Yadav's Murder Bares Caste Fault Lines in Mitraon
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(*Names changed to protect identity)

The year was 2013 and it was love at first sight for Shyam* and Jyoti*. In their early 20s at the time, the two strangers were eyeing the last cone of a chocolate ice cream at a stall in southwest Delhi’s Najafgarh's main city market. 

Ice cream nahi mili lekin yeh mil gayi (I lost the ice cream but I found her),” said 32-year-old Shyam, a decade later, as he looked at their old photo.

On a breezy March afternoon at Najafgarh’s Mitraon village – which was lately in the news after 23-year-old Nikki Yadav’s body was found in a fridge at a dhaba here – the couple narrated their love story. 

“We met for ice cream a few times, took the same bus often and he would get off a stop before mine at Mitraon village,” recounted 29-year-old Jyoti.

Two months later, Jyoti and Shyam eloped and got married and that’s when all hell broke loose. After all, Shyam, a Jat, had married Jyoti, a Sunar. This didn’t bode well with Shyam’s family.

Two months after meeting each other for the first time, Jyoti and Shyam eloped and got married. 

(Illustration: Aroop Mishra/The Quint)


Jab humaari shaadi ki baat pata chali, inke gharwaale laathi, goli lekar hume maarne aa gaye thay (His family members came after us with sticks and guns as soon as they learnt about our marriage),” Jyoti told The Quint

Ten years later, Mitraon village has made headlines after Sahil Gehlot – a resident – was arrested for killing his partner Nikki Yadav on 10 February and marrying another woman the same day. 

The Delhi Police claimed that Sahil and Nikki got married in 2020, and the accused's family knew about his marriage but "pressured him into another marriage because Nikki belonged to a different community." Hours before he got married to another woman, Sahil allegedly killed Nikki.

The stories of Jyoti and Shyam, and other couples that The Quint spoke to are intertwined with that of Mitraon village, where caste fault lines are deeper than ever before after this case came to the fore. This is the story of the village, and the couples who share a different fate than that of Nikki and Sahil's.

Welcome to Mitraon

Located in Najafgarh, a town on the outskirts of Delhi and bordering Haryana, the Gehlots are the dominant caste group in Mitraon. With acres of agricultural land, the village is home to rich landlords, and upper and lower middle class Jat families. 

As per the 2011 census, the village has a population of 6,512 people. 

Puran Mal Gehlot, 83, sat outside a sweet shop at the entry of the village. "Aaj kal bacche apne mann ki karte hain. Maa-baap ki koi nahi sunta. Gaon mein kaafi other caste shaadi hui hain. Aise bhi ghar hain jahan Jat ke ladke ne Dalit ki ladki se shaadi kar rakhi hai (Children these days do not listen to their parents. It is because of this that inter-caste marriages have become common. There are families where a Jat boy has married a Dalit girl)," said Puran Mal, as he shared his hookah with another man who sat next to him.

Puran Mal Gehlot, 83, sat outside a sweet shop at the entry of the village.

(Illustration: Aroop Mishra/The Quint)


Cast(e)ing Love Away: The Story of Nikki Yadav Murder

On 10 February, in the same village, 24-year-old Sahil allegedly strangled his live-in partner Nikki to death using the charging cable of his phone and then stored her body in a refrigerator at his family-owned dhaba

The Delhi police later alleged that during the interrogation, Sahil said that Nikki was his wife and not his live-in partner.

Later that day, Sahil got married to another woman. 

Much like Jyoti and Shyam, Sahil and Nikki were an inter-caste couple and their love story too started on a bus. According to the police, Sahil said that he met Nikki in a bus while they were on their way to Dwarka in January 2018. At that time, he was preparing for the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) exams, while she was studying for a medical entrance exam. 

Days after the news of the alleged murder made headlines, Special Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ravindra Singh Yadav claimed, "After sustained interrogation, Sahil disclosed that the deceased was asking him not to marry another woman because both Sahil and Nikki had already solemnised their marriage in 2020 at an Arya Samaj Mandir in Greater Noida."

Police sources had also alleged to The Quint that they had "strong documentary evidence to prove that Sahil's family knew about their marriage and vehemently opposed it." 

On the condition of anonymity, a senior Delhi police officer alleged that the reason behind Sahil's family not accepting Nikki was the fact that she came from a different "community."


In Mitraon, Caste Fault Lines, and Gang Wars 

Apart from its agricultural lands, Mitraon is also famous for gang violence. Since 1989, residents of Mitraon and Dichaon Kalan, another Jat-dominated village barely two km away, have borne the brunt of the ugly gang wars. 

"Due to the bad reputation of the village, it has become difficult for parents to find suitable matches for their children," said Yashwant Gehlot, 45. Son of the former village pradhan, Yashwant runs a clothing shop. 

"The situation is particularly troubling when it comes to finding brides for men in the village. Nobody wants to marry their daughter in a village notorious for violence," he said. 

In such situations, several families indulge in a practise widely prevalent in the neighbouring state of Haryana — ‘bride-buying’.

Jyoti was quick to bring this up in her conversation with The Quint.

"Waise toh yeh log caste ke peeche hume jaan se maarne chale thay, lekin iss gaon mein aise bohot se ghar hain jahan bahuon ko khareed ke laaye hue hain. Woh bhi other castes ki hi hain. Criminals ke gaon mein kaun apni beti dega? (When we got married, they wanted to kill us over our caste but there are several families in the village who've bought brides from other communities and states. This is because of the village's reputation of being home to criminals," she alleged. 

Several inter-caste marriages are arranged by families who are unable to find brides within the community due to Mitraon's reputation of being a village of criminals.

(Illustration: Aroop Mishra/The Quint)

The Quint met one such bride, Swati*. In 2011, Swati, then 21 years old, was married to Mahesh* who was almost 40 years old. "Theirs was also an inter-caste marriage but nobody objected to it... She is his third wife," said Savita Devi, an elderly neighbour.

Savita said that Mahesh's first wife had died a few years after their marriage. "The second wife couldn't have children and died by suicide. After that, Mahesh's family got him married to Swati," she claimed. 


'...They Chased Us With Guns and Sticks'

Ten years ago, through the wide roads, spacious homes, and lush fields of Mitraon, as Shyam's family chased the couple with sticks and guns, the two managed to escape, 10 km away, to Jyoti's maternal uncle's home in Issapur, and camped there for a few months. 

"Eventually, we were forced to seek help from the police," recounted Shyam. 

As the news of Nikki's murder broke, Jyoti said that she realised that nothing has really changed in a decade, and that caste is a defining factor in the village -- one that dictates if you'll live or die.

"Other caste mein shaadi karna itna asaan nahi hai yahan. Bachhe hone ke baad tension thodi kam hui. Aaj bhi hum saas-sasur ke saath nahi rehte. Woh humse milne aate hain, lekin chhup-chhup kar. Samaaj waalon ka pressure bhi to hai. (Inter-caste marriages are not easy here. It was only after the birth of my children that our relationship with his (Shyam's) family improved. Till date my in-laws visit us in secrecy because of the fear of being ostracised by society," whispered Jyoti. 

Over the years, even as Shyam's family accepted their marriage, the couple was forced to live separately in the same village.

Those Who Survived

Despite several difficulties, inter-caste couples such as Shyam and Jyoti, Swati and Mahesh, and Nidhi* and Rajeev*, have loved and lived in Mitraon for decades. 

Nidhi, 32, was nine months pregnant, when she watched the news of Nikki Yadav's murder. "Honestly, I wasn't shocked. Inter-caste couples have rarely had it easy in the village... But murder? Sahil should have stood strong for his love," she said. 

An advocate by profession, Nidhi married Rajeev, a government official, in 2015. "We were both financially independent. The families accepted us wholeheartedly after we expressed our wish to get married. It was the neighbours who created trouble," she told The Quint

With Nikki's death bringing the village back into news, these couples are scared -- not for themselves but for their children. 

"Loving someone is not a crime. We don't discuss this often but we had hoped that our children will not have to face what we faced when we got married. It, however, seems that society is not changing for the better," said Nidhi. 

The Nikki Yadav murder caste has brought back old memories for other inter-caste couples and their families in the village.

(Illustration: Aroop Mishra/The Quint)

Shyam and Jyoti echoed similar concerns.

"Tomorrow when my son and daughter grow up, how will I tell them that love has a caste?" asked Shyam. "These cases bring bad reputation to the village, and at the same time take us back to those horrifying days when we were on the run," Jyoti added.

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Topics:  Crime   Nikki Yadav Murder 

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