Srinagar: Gulzar Ahmad and Ritu Khandelwal had been dating for six months when they finally thought of getting married. But the young couple knew that their journey was not going to be easy because of their religions. Ahmad hails from Kashmir and is a Muslim, Khandelwal is a Hindu from Barmer district of Rajasthan.
Gulzar moved to Jodhpur, Rajasthan from north Kashmir’s Kupwara in 2014 and started working as a chef in a restaurant. The 21-year-old then shifted to Barmer in 2015 where he began working in another restaurant.
Ritu used to visit the place often and when Ahmad spotted her one day it was “love at first sight”.
“We both fell in love at first sight, perhaps,” says Gulzar. “She was a college student and later began teaching at a school. Our relationship grew stronger but I was always scared because of our different religions,” he adds.
“When Ritu proposed marriage to me, I told her it was not possible,” he says. “But she surprised me, saying she will convert to Islam.”
In December 2017, the couple moved to Srinagar and married in J&K High Court.
The couple got married in December last year.
“Ritu converted to Islam and we filed the affidavit before the court and then we got married,” says Gulzar. Ritu was given a Muslim name, Zainab.
Soon after learning about their marriage, Ritu’s parents filed a police case against Gulzar, terming it another case of ‘love jihad’, alleged campaigns to convert non-Muslim women via marriage to Muslim men.
“Videos were circulated in which I was accused of kidnapping their girl. Hate campaigns were launched against me,” he says.
When a team of Rajasthan police visited Kashmir and tried to take away Ritu, who was to their surprise then called Zainab, the couple moved to court.
“The high court directed us not to interfere in their life and so we went back to Rajasthan. They had all the papers and were legally married,” a police official who was part of the team that visited Kashmir told News18.
However, the hate didn’t stop, which forced the couple to release a video of their own in which made it clear that they are living together of their own free will.
“I have converted to Islam and my name is Zainab. Please let us live together. We beg you,” Zainab is seen saying in the video.
Love Breaks Barriers
The couple could finally live a normal and peaceful life like they wanted. They moved from Kupwara to Srinagar and Gulzar started working at a local café. During this time, Zainab’s relatives visited Kashmir and met her.
“Her cousins, uncle and aunt visited us in summers and stayed with us for nearly two weeks,” says Gulzar, scrolling through photos on his phone. Zainab is seen with her relatives at tourist destination Gulmarg, cheering and enjoying.
“Everyone was accepting of us and she used to talk to her parents regularly as well,” he says.
In September, Zainab’s uncle, who Gulzar says is a lieutenant rank officer in the Indian Army and posted in Srinagar, invited them for lunch. “His uncle is posted in Badami Bagh Cantonment, Srinagar. We went to meet him and had lunch with him and his wife. He treated us well,” says Gulzar.
On November 26, Gulzar left the café in the evening, packing a pizza for Zainab. He was shocked to see his wife not home. The couple was living in a rented accommodation in Rajbagh, uptown Srinagar.
The landlord has seen Zainab going out in the afternoon, alone.
“I called her phone, but it was switched off. I contacted every person I knew, but everyone was clueless,” Gulzar told News18.
The next day, he went to the local police station and filed a missing person’s complaint. But he was surprised after few days when a Hindi newspaper cited Zainab as part of a story of “homecoming of a girl caught in love jihad by a Kashmiri youth.”
The report alleged that she was “brainwashed and lured into love jihad” by a Kashmiri youth.
“We received an application from the girl and her father that she was converted to Islam forcibly. The girl said she has come back and wants to live with the family,” Barmer SP Rahul Barhat told News18. “We are investigating the matter and will see if the girl was forced into the marriage or is being forced by her parents,” he said.
Gulzar Ahmad feels that his wife was kidnapped and taken forcibly by a relative. “I think she was taken back home forcefully and is under pressure,” he says. “I have been talking to her relatives. From what I gather, she is being threatened.”
Jammu and Kashmir police are yet to file an FIR in the case.
“We have received the complaint and given the newspaper report, we talked to the local police officers. We will take the investigation ahead,” said Ayaz Geelani, the SHO of Rajbagh police station. “We will see if we can send a team to Rajasthan.”
Gulzar Ahmad says that the local police are not taking pains in the case. “They are yet to register an FIR. She is my wife and no one can snatch her from me,” he says.
He now plans to approach the court.
The Supreme Court while hearing the alleged ‘love jihad’ case in Kerala had stated that: “The right to marry a person of one’s choice… The choice of a partner whether within or outside marriage lies within the exclusive domain of each individual. Intimacies of marriage lie within a core zone of privacy, which is inviolable.”
Despite repeated attempts to contact Zainab, News18 couldn’t talk to her or her family.
(The author is a Kashmir-based freelance writer)