Amid the controversy over two Sikh women being forcefully converted to Islam and married to Muslim men in Jammu and Kashmir, one of them remarried a man from the Sikh community on Tuesday, 27 June, just two days after being 'handed over' to her family by the police.
18-year-old Manmeet Kaur, a resident of Srinagar, had earlier married a Kashmiri Muslim, a marriage the family claimed was a case of "forced conversion".
Protests had broken out in several parts of the country against the alleged forced conversion of the two women with Hindu right-wing groups and their allies, raising the bogey of ‘love jihad’ while demanding a law against inter-faith marriage for J&K.
Along with Manmeet, another 28-year-old woman Danmeet who married a Kashmiri Muslim in 2014, is also at the centre of this raging controversy. Danmeet, however, has rejected allegations that she was "held at gunpoint" and forcibly converted to Islam before her wedding and is currently living with her in-laws.
The Case of Manmeet Kaur: Claims of 'Forceful Conversion' and Remarriage
In Manmeet’s case, 29-year-old Shahid Nazir Bhat has been arrested as the main culprit. It was not known immediately whether Manmeet had married Shahid, also a resident of Srinagar, who is presently in police custody.
There were rumours earlier that Shahid is a 60-year-old man with two kids but the police dismissed them as “baseless”.
The J&K Police had handed over Manmeet to her parents on Saturday, 26 June, after she recorded a statement before a court in Srinagar, the details of which are not known. Two days later, in a hushed ceremony attended by the elders of the community, she was reportedly married to a Sikh man.
Earlier, speaking to The Quint, Jagmohan Singh Raina, president of Kashmir-based All Party Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC) had said that Manmeet was produced by J&K Police before a court in Srinagar on Saturday.
According to reports, hundreds of Sikh protesters had gathered outside the court premises to demand that she be handed over to her parents. Raina claimed that the police didn’t allow Manmeet’s parents to be present inside the court while a judge was recording her statement.
“They (Manmeet’s parents) were made to sign some papers. It was only after protesters raised slogans that she was handed to her parents,” Raina alleged.
A senior police officer, however, said there is no provision in law that mandates the parents of the woman to be present before the judge while their daughter was recording the statement.
A complaint of abduction was lodged against Manmeet’s huband Shahid by her parents, after which he was also arrested. “He (Shahid) is presently on police remand,” superintendent of police (Srinagar), Mubasher Hussain told The Quint.
'Threat to Life': The Case of Danmeet
Officials said Danmeet got married to a Srinagar resident identified as Muzaffar Ahmad (30) in 2014 and was arrested on the complaint of abduction filed by Danmeet's parents.
A senior police officer said Muzaffar, Danmeet’s husband, is presently lodged in Srinagar’s Central Jail.
A selfie-video that has gone viral on social media in Kashmir shows Danmeet saying that she left home on 6 June and informed her family to not search for her. She said she was ‘captured’ by police within hours and handed over to her parents.
Speaking a mix of Urdu and English while recording the video, Danmeet says she was taken by her family to Jammu and then to Punjab where “several federations” met her and attempted to “brainwash” her into recording a video statement against her “legal husband,” which she refused.
“They (federations) warned of getting me killed or targeting me in acid attacks. I am not missing… but my life is under threat. Please stop playing politics over this issue,” she says in the video.
“I am an adult and an educated girl. I know my rights and I can differentiate between right and wrong. I converted (to Islam) in 2012 and got married in (J&K) high court to my batch-mate Muzaffar in 2014. I have all the documents to prove this,” she says.
Dismissing claims that she was held at gunpoint, she said she has deposed before a court in Srinagar that she married Muzaffar of her own will. “How can anyone be held at gunpoint in front of a judge?” Danmeet said.
Police 'Rubbish' Claims of Forceful Conversion
An investigation by J&K Police has ruled out the use of force against the women.
A senior police officer involved in the investigations said the “speculation” that the two women were forcibly abducted is “all rubbish”.
“Their is no evidence to suggest the use of force. What they have done was out of their own will,” the officer said.
The issue has trigged a political storm in many parts of the country. A delegation of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) led by its president Manjinder Singh Sirsa, arrived in Srinagar on Sunday, 27 June, and staged a protest in the city.
The delegation later met the Lieutenant Governor of J&K, Manoj Sinha, who “assured constituting a minority commission".
Sinha assured the delegation that “a law will be implemented to stop forcible conversions. The local Sikh community and representatives of the Sikh community are satisfied with the assurances given by Sinha ji," a DSGMC statement issued after the meeting said.
Sirsa also wrote to the Centre in this regard. "Union Home Minister Amit Shah also talked to us over the phone. He told us that he was monitoring the matter and assured that the perpetrators will be dealt with strongly and the law will take its own course,” he said in a press conference in Srinagar.
Former BJP ally and Shiromani Akali Dal President chief Sukhbir Singh Badal had also expressed shock over the alleged abduction and interfaith marriage of the Sikh women.
"Shocked to learn that our Sikh daughter Manmeet Kaur was kidnapped and forcibly married to an elderly man of a different community in Srinagar. Have asked DSGMC president Manjinder Singh Sirsa ji to immediately rush there and ensure justice is delivered to the victim's family," SAD Chief Badal tweeted.
On Sunday, National Sikh Front chairman Varinderjit Singh Jeet had also raised the issue, demanding “exemplary action against the accused". A letter was sent by Akal Takht Jathedar to the Centre, seeking action against such forced conversions, RP Singh, a BJP leader, had said.
“Same law should be enacted in Jammu and Kashmir to save young Sikh girls from (being converted at) gunpoint or allurement as in UP and MP. Similarly, many people in Punjab are being converted, especially in the Gurdaspur belt, by enticing them with money or favours," he said.
'Disturbing Communal Harmony'
As pressure from the Sikh community and several poltical outfits rises, APSCC President Jagmohan Singh Raina said that some “miscreants” are attempting to “disturb the communal harmony” in Kashmir.
“We (Kashmiri Sikhs and Muslims) have shared our joys and sorrows for decades. I am hearing disturbing reports of some Hindu right-wing activists arriving in Kashmir. They want to drive a communal wedge between us, but we won’t allow them to succeed,” he said.
Danmeet had also expressed a similar sentiment in her video, saying “some people” are trying to project it as an “issue of (attack on Kashmiri) minorities but they are indulging in propaganda for political reasons”.
“Please don’t create trouble and sow (the seeds of) discord (between Kashmiri Sikhs and Muslims) in the name of religion,” she says in the video.
Calls for Probe
Demanding an impartial probe, former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said the authorities in Kashmir must “investigate the recent cause of tension and if anyone has broken the law, the case should be prosecuted and necessary punishment handed out".
“Any move to drive a wedge between Sikhs & Muslims in Kashmir will cause irreparable harm to J&K. The two communities have supported each other through thick & thin, having withstood countless attempts to damage age old relationships. I hope the authorities will move quickly (sic),” he tweeted.
Former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted: “Disturbed to hear reports about the incident involving two Sikh girls in Kashmir. Muslims and Sikhs in J&K have co-existed peacefully in the worst of times. Hope the investigative agencies swiftly get to the bottom of this issue.”
J&K’s grand Mufti, Mufti Nasir-ul-Islam said there is “no place for forcible conversion in Islam".
“Sikhs are part and parcel of Kashmiri community and no one will be allowed to disrespect their faith in the Valley. Let there be an impartial inquiry into the matter,” he said.
Kashmir is known for maintaining communal harmony for years together and Sikhs are an important part of Kashmir’s age-old culture, ethos, and communal brotherhood, he added.
(Corrigendum: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated Manmeet Kaur's age as 26. This was based on source-based inputs from Jammu and Kashmir. However, her age was later clarified and confirmed by sources in the Jammu and Kashmir police to be 18. The error is regretted.)
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