unnamedLUCKNOW: Chants of Sanskrit shlokas and ‘ayats’ (verses) from the Quran will echo in tandem and under one roof on January 28. The ‘union of hearts’ will take place in UP’s Ballia district, when 351 Hindu and Muslim girls wed during a mass marriage ceremony organised by a students’ social group, Chhatra Shakti Seva Sansthan.

Ballia is a district that has never seen a communal clash in its history. “Many people or groups are trying to blur the secular ethos in the country for political and other vested reasons. We have come together to counter their nefarious design,” said Uma Shankar Singh, who heads the group to end the dowry demon, and also sitting MLA of Rasra assembly constituency .

The ceremony will be organised as per rituals and with the consent of participating families. “We made a humble beginning in 2012 but the response has added to our responsibility ,” said Singh, adding that they have received more than 1,300 applications this year. One can apply only after fixing a match for their daughter.

Looking at the response, a selection criteria was introduced. “The census report showed a large number of girls in India get married before attaining legal age.Therefore, we decided to promote marrying off girls who were above 18 years. In this way , more than 50% applications were rejected,” Singh shared.

Further trimming was done with the help of a deadline. Eventually, 400 applications were short-listed for verification of age, address and genuineness of the financial standing. Hectic preparations are underway in the district to fulfil the responsibility . “Maulvis and pundits have been engaged to conduct the ceremony as per rituals. Arrangements are being made to greet more than 4 lakh persons in the mass wedding. And so, more than 60 caterers and tent houses in the entire Ballia have been roped in to provide food and shade in 25 pandals. Some pandals have been reserved for women and elderly so as to avoid confusion,” said Singh.

The group is supported by volunteers including school teachers, panchyat representatives and social workers to ensure that the ceremony passes off without glitches. A local lawyer, Ashok Verma informed that the wedding ceremony is an attraction among common people. “Singers and artistes are invited to perform on the occasion and anyone can come to bless the couples,” he said.

Retired teacher Satish Pandey lauded the effort saying: “The social messages given by the group are extremely important for the society.