The police in Madhya Pradesh have declared a marriage between a Christian man and a Hindu woman invalid, after protests by right-wing groups.
Joseph Pawar, who is in his 20s, and Ayushi Wani, 19, reportedly eloped and married at an Arya Samaj temple in Bhopal on September 28. They were traced by the police to Pavagadh in Gujarat after the girl’s parents filed a complaint and the Hindu Jagran Manch and other right-wing organisations threatened to launch an agitation. The two hail from Jobat town in tribal-dominated Alirajpur district.
The town observed a bandh on Wednesday as the superintendent of police met the two families separately in his office. Meanwhile, hundreds of right-wing activists gathered outside the premises.
Ayushi reportedly told Alirajpur SP Akhilesh Jha that she was in love with Joseph, a nursing college student, and that she went with him of her own accord. She also refused to return to her parents, following which she was sent to Nari Niketan in Ujjain.
The activists said they wanted Joseph booked for allegedly luring Ayushi into marrying him, but the police said no case could be made against him since she was not a minor. Joseph was escorted to Indore under police protection to ensure his safety.
Police, however, declared the marriage invalid, saying that Joseph is not a Hindu and that in order to marry Ayushi, he would have to convert to Hinduism by following a procedure laid down under the Freedom of Religion Act.
According to the Act, a person who wants to convert as well as those who would preside over the ceremony are supposed to notify the district magistrate a month in advance.
Jha told The Indian Express that he took the decision to declare the marriage invalid because it seemed like the best option at the time, given that 300-400 activists had surrounded his office and the threat of arson and damage to government property loomed large. “There are both plus and minus points when an administrator takes a decision in such matters,” he said.
Joseph, meanwhile, said that the marriage in the Arya Samaj temple was carried out according to Hindu rituals.
Ayushi’s family had filed a complaint on September 26 when she did not return home from college. Right-wing activists threatened to take to the streets when it was revealed that she had eloped with a Christian man, and gave the police till September 30 to bring the couple back to Jobat.
The police discovered that after the marriage on September 28, the couple went to Pavagadh, from where the two were brought to Jobat on October 1.
The SP said the situation had returned to normal on Thursday, but added that it was not safe for Joseph to return. “It’s possible that he could apply to convert his faith,” he said.
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