Casteist Slurs, a Mob Attack: What Followed a Dalit-Muslim Wedding
An FIR has been registered and 4 people, including the woman’s brother, have been arrested by the police.
"You are smart to know this... How can someone from the Muslim community give their daughter to someone in the Valmiki community? We cannot either give or take children from them," 52-year-old Majid, the father of 19-year-old Muslim woman Sheena* (*name changed to protect identity) who recently converted to Hinduism and got married to 22-year-old Shyam*, said while we sat at the Sarai Kale Khan police chowki at around 10 pm on Sunday, 21 March.
Videos of a group of 10-15 people going on a rampage in Southeast Delhi's Sarai Kale Khan went viral on 20 March. The men in the CCTV footage can be seen damaging two-wheelers and banging hard on the doors of houses, while people can be heard screaming from inside. To understand how a ‘love marriage’ between consenting adults led to an agitated mob creating mayhem, this reporter went to the ground to speak to the families of Sheena and Shyam, the locals, as well as police officials. With high security in the area, the tensions were palpable in the by-lanes of Sarai Kale Khan.
The couple got married on 17 March. The woman's family filed a missing person report a day later. The police tracked the couple and brought them, along with the families for counselling at the Sunlight Colony police station. On 20 March, when the counselling ended, both sides got frantic calls that Farman, the woman’s brother, along with his friends, had attacked the lane where the man's family lived. While the couple and the man's family were not there, the mob not only damaged property but also allegedly attacked some neighbours who were present. This reporter spoke to them as well.
An FIR has been registered against seventeen named accused, of which four had been arrested by Saturday night. The four men who were arrested are the woman’s brother 20-year-old Farman and their neighbours and relatives – 23-year-old Shahrukh, 21-year-old Hasan Ali, and 19-year-old Raja. They’ve been booked under sections of rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, threatening, and causing damage to property.
‘If He Was Anything But a Valmiki, We Would Not Have Minded’
Sheena and Shyam had been in a relationship for about a year. She had also told her father about it a few months ago, but Majid, who is from the dominant Ashraf caste, had categorically denied to take the matter forward. Recounting the conversation, he said:
"She used to have an affair with the guy in the past. She had confessed she was in love with him. I told her that the boy was not from our community, and hence we couldn’t allow them to marry."
Majid added, “Vo humaara samaaj ka nahi hai, ki hum tum dono ki shaadi kara paaye. Agar vo humaare samaaj ka bhi nahi hota, par is samaaj ka nahi hota, aur doosre samaaj ka hota toh main hasi khushi kar deta. Lekin is samaaj ka hai vo toh maine toh beti ke saamne haath jod liye. Hum Muslim hai aur vo Valmiki. (He is not from our community, and hence we couldn’t allow them to marry. If he was not even a Muslim, but was not a Valmiki, then I would have happily got them married to each other. But because he is from this community, I had folded my hands in front of my daughter.)”
Majid has a business of repairing battery rickshaws and recharging their batteries. The Quint asked him why the man being a Valmiki was an issue, to which he responded:
"How can it not be an issue? You are smart enough to know why. How can someone from the Muslim community give their child to someone in the Valmiki community? We can not take or give children."
"If they were, say Brahmins or Kshatriyas, then," we asked him.
"Then we would see. My child is an adult, if from her heart she wants to marry him. We would agree then. Now also what have we been able to do?" Majid responded.
However, the man being a Valmiki was not something Majid could make peace with. "They are very different from us. We cannot make them marry our kids and other things. This is because their status is different." Majid claimed that he had no issue with Valmikis 'in general'.
"Otherwise we meet them, we are friends with them. So many of them live here. They are my friends as well, I go to their homes, but we cannot become relatives," he said.
‘They Humiliated Us When We Went to Meet Them’
Just like Sheena had told her parents about Shyam, so had Shyam told his parents about her.
Shyam's parents – 50-year-old Kishandeep and 45-year-old Rajni – recalled how the father had gone to meet Majid, but was humiliated by him. "They were dating each other for a year. I got to know about this and went to the girl's house in December 2020. I told them that they (the couple) may run away and get married and that would be embarrassing for all of us, so why don't you agree to the union. They told me straight up that I should look at my caste before I talk. That I clean people's houses for a living," Kishandeep said. He works as a peon with the Delhi government.
Rajni added that the woman's family had humiliated them.
Kishandeep said he told his son to wait, that he would make some more money and then maybe they would try again. However, Shyam and Sheena had other plans. "I told my son to wait, but before we knew, both of them decided to get married. I got a call from my son that they had reached the venue, that they were already married, so we both left the area on 17 March for our safety," he added.
What Happened at the Counselling Meet, Hours Before the Rampage
The news of Sheena's marriage was broken to Majid by the police officials on 19 March. "It was through their phone that I spoke to her. My daughter told me she was married and that we should not trouble them at all. If we did decide to trouble them, then anything could happen. She said this to me or was she made to say this to me, I do not know. I got so tensed as my child had never spoken to me like this," Majid said, visibly emotional and upset.
He wanted to meet his daughter: "The police told me she had made up her mind, but for my own tasalli (comfort), I wanted to see my daughter and speak to her."
A day later, on the night of 20 March, they all met.
"My daughter kept saying that she does not want to stay with me. That she only wanted to stay with him," he added.
Recounting the conversation between him, his daughter, and the police officials, Majid said:
"The police official asked the boy what he used to do for a living? The boy said he did nothing. Then the official asked him how he would take care of the woman. He said he would get a job. Then the policeman asked Sheena, how she has lived in such a good household all her life and how she will adjust with Shyam. To which she said she will be fine. I do not know what happened to my child," Majid said in disbelief.
Majid told us he never brought up the question about conversion with her. “I did not ask her anything. She did not even behave like she was our child.” He was, however, upset that the police did not act faster. "We came to them on 17 March and we met her on 20 March. They delayed. Everything else changed in those days, don't you think they would put pressure on her?"
On the other hand, the casteist attack on Shyam's parents did not seem to stop. At this counselling session, in the police station, the casteist slurs kept coming. They said the relatives of the woman kept saying things like, "You are jamadaars (cleaners), you are people who clean houses. We are Muslims. At the police station a relative who was around made a comment like we do jhaadu poncha (mopping, cleaning) for Rs 10 and Rs 20. They also said that they will play khoon ki Holi (Holi with blood) if this union goes through."
"They were 100 people and we were 10-15 people, with a child as well. Things were so bad that I thought I would get murdered. I made Rajni also sit in a car, when that did not help, I told her to go ahead a few kilometres to keep a safe distance from the police station."
Around 11 pm when they left things continued to be very tense, but the woman had established beyond doubt to her family that she was going to stay with Shyam. "In the midst of all this, the woman told the police and her family that she has married out of her own volition and that she does not want to meet or live with her family members," Rajni said, adding that she wanted to convert to Hinduism. “At the same time, we wanted her to be in the Hindu religion when she came to our home as well. This was never a point of conflict at home," she said.
The couple was escorted with the man's parents under security, and the woman's family was on their own when at different times they were called and told about the mob attack.
The Mob Attack
"I am an eyewitness to the incident. I was sitting outside when they showed up with knives and swords. They were constantly abusing us and kept breaking the scooter, bikes and were hitting the doors of homes when they went in. They went in this way and then the other way again as they pelted stones, crossing and causing damage," 55-year-old Rajjo alleged. Sunny Kumar showed this reporter his arm, which has been bandaged, "I was hit by a knife. I was also hit with bricks on my feet." Sunny was struggling to walk.
So were 50-year-old Kaushalya and 47-year-old Vijay Kumar. "I was home when I was hit. I was attacked with a knife. About 50 people were there and they attacked me, see," Kaushalya alleged pointing to the wound on the left side of her stomach. Kumar was attacked on his hand. He had raised his hand to protect himself from the attack of a knife, and the knife bruised his left hand, he said, adding that he was then hit with bricks on his leg.
Kumar alleged that if people were standing outside on the street and not sleeping inside, then many people could have been murdered.
The Quint was told by the police and Majid that bikes and scooters of those belonging to the Muslim community were also attacked. Majid said two Muslim families lived there and the police official said one Muslim's possessions had been attacked. When this reporter went to the locality to clarify the same, everyone denied the allegations. "There is no Muslim living on this street at all," everyone said in a chorus.
Amongst the various vehicles damaged, two belonged to Vipin Keer and Sahil. Keer, 32, who works in pest control, said, "The SHO is saying we are giving you the bike, you get it repaired yourself, and then send the bill to the police station. After the court accepts the claim, the money will be reimbursed. We have no idea how long this will take though."
The police and the woman's father said that they apologised to everyone the mob had attacked, whose property was damaged. However, when we went to the ground and asked if that was true, the locals chanted ‘no’ together. "No one has come... These are lies... Who told you this?" they said.
When asked how will those whose bikes have been broken be compensated, Majid said they would have insurance policies. "Their cars will be insured, so the insurance companies will handle it."
The Quint asked, "If anyone asks you for money what will you do?"
“What can I do, I am already out of Rs 4 to Rs 4.5 lakh that my daughter took and ran away. Will they return the money that I have lost? The girl has taken this money and gone. If they ask me for compensation I will tell them that I’ll give it to them, but they have to return my girl back to me then. I’ll give up to Rs 10 lakh.”
The Quint asked, "But why should the neighbours have to do all this at all?
"Eventually they are all from the same community, right? That is how they behave."
The police official, who was around, then came and told Majid that community and family were different and that he must not say these things in anger.
‘You Should Have Kept a Strong Hold on Your Sister’: Majid to His Son
After the violence and before the arrest, Majid met his son at home and asked him why he did what he did. "I met my son and asked him why he had fought at all. I told him if Sheena was really ours then she would never do this to us," he said.
Looking at Farman's anger, he said, "Agar tujhe itna gussa tha, itna pyaar tha apni behen se, toh pehle hi usse tight karta. Pehle usko itna pyaar karta tha, vo jo bhi maangti thi la deta tha. Khilata, pilata tha use. Kabhi tune aisa socha nahi ki behen aisa kar rahi hai. Usko tight karo. (If you were so angry, if you had so much love for your sister, you should have kept a strong hold on her before itself. Earlier, he loved her so much, spoilt her by giving her whatever she wanted. It was his fault that he did not know what his sister was doing, and not keeping a strong hold on her.)"
Farman is a 22-year-old gym trainer who was profusely crying at this point. Hours later, Majid took him and the other boys himself to the police station, he said.
Couple Happy, But Worried About Future Violence
The police is insisting that things are normal, but a visit to the ground along with the heavy security in the area point towards continued tensions. While the couple is safe, they are constantly keeping a tab on their parents.
"They both are fine. They are happy they are with each other. The only thing they are concerned about is our well-being. We keep talking on the phone again and again and all they want to know is the situation in the area. We told them that the Bajrang Dal is going to come here tomorrow and that the media is coming too," Kishandeep told this reporter.
He said without the security he would not feel safe in the area. "They have a lot of money," he added.
“I am not harbouring any anger against my daughter-in-law. This is the only place we have. We have three daughters and only one son. The lives of our children are under threat, especially that of our daughter-in-law. Someone or the other had kept saying 'kaam kardo' again and again at the police station," Kishandeep said. Rajni said she wants her son to come back home, but does not know if that would be possible.
On the other hand, Sheena's father ‘lost’ two kids in a matter of hours. "One went away, despite me treating her the best way possible and my son is in jail and will have to be bailed out. I do not want anything to do with her. I do not want the money either. Even if she dies, I do not want to see her face," he added.
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