Wid­owed by hon­our killing

Me­hvish and Ab­dul met at school, fell in love and eloped – but Ab­dul was shot dead last year, leav­ing mother-of-two Me­hvish on her own. She tells Jalees An­drabi her tragic story

Friday - - Society -

Me­hvish Hakim, 24, fights back tears as she watches her two small chil­dren, Man­tasha and Zoya Hakim, play­ing on the floor. She still can’t be­lieve she’ll never see them run­ning to her hus­band, their hands aloft, wait­ing to be picked up and cud­dled. She’ll never hear Ab­dul Hakim’s voice again.

That’s be­cause her hus­band was the al­leged vic­tim of an ‘hon­our killing’. His crime: he and Me­hvish were in love and mar­ried with­out her par­ents’ con­sent.

“My fam­ily killed my hus­band,’’ she claims. “They would not let us live in peace and now they’ve taken re­venge. I will never for­give them. My chil­dren will never have a fa­ther be­cause of them; they dis­gust me.’’

Ab­dul was shot dead on Novem­ber 22 last year. He was on his way back from a phar­macy where he’d gone to buy medicine to help Me­hvish with a headache.

Five men – in­clud­ing, ac­cord­ing to some In­dian me­dia re­ports, mem­bers of Me­hvish’s fam­ily – are now in a prison in Lucknow, north­ern In­dia, await­ing trial.

His death at the age of 28 was just five months af­ter the cou­ple ap­peared on Aamir Khan’s pop­u­lar TV show Satyamev Jay­ate (Truth will tri­umph) claim­ing there was a threat to their lives be­cause they had mar­ried with­out her par­ents’ ap­proval.

The lo­cal po­lice deny this, say­ing per­sonal en­mity was the rea­son be­hind the killing. “The girl’s fam­ily had come to ac­cept the mar­riage. Noth­ing in­di­cates this mur­der is linked to the cou­ple’s mar­riage,” a spokesper­son said.

But Me­hvish re­fuses to be­lieve this. The man she’d fallen in love with while in school and mar­ried in 2009 would have been saved if the po­lice had of­fered him pro­tec­tion, she claims.

A for­bid­den love

Com­ing from an af­flu­ent up­per-caste fam­ily in Adoli vil­lage, Ma­ha­rash­tra, cen­tral In­dia, Me­hvish was Ab­dul’s neigh­bour. But her fam­ily al­ways looked down on Ab­dul’s be­cause they were of a dif­fer­ent so­cial stand­ing and so had noth­ing to do with them.

“He was a nice boy, dif­fer­ent from oth­ers in ev­ery way,’’ says Me­hvish. “I first met him when I was 11 at school. Even at that time I re­mem­ber we used to en­joy each other’s com­pany. A few years later, we ex­pressed our feel­ings to each other. It was true love.’’

The pair met in se­cret fre­quently. Both were aware of the class di­vide but thought their fam­i­lies would for­get that when they saw how happy they were.

Me­hvish was 14 when her fam­ily found out about their re­la­tion­ship through neigh­bours who’d seen the cou­ple talk­ing. They promptly took her out of school, while Ab­dul’s par­ents, fear­ing threats from the vil­lage el­ders, sent him to pur­sue a com­puter course in town.

Now that they did not have a chance to meet, they planned other ways to keep their love alive. “We main­tained our re­la­tion­ship qui­etly with­out meet­ing each other,” Me­hvish ex­plains. “We didn’t have mo­bile phones at the time so we used to ex­change let­ters. I used to put a let­ter un­der a brick in a wall near our homes and the next day he would put his let­ter there. It con­tin­ued for four to five years.’’

Mar­riage at any cost

Me­hvish knew she had fallen in love and de­cided she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Ab­dul. He too was de­ter­mined to marry her at any cost. So in the sum­mer of 2009 the cou­ple de­cided to elope.

While vis­it­ing her grand­mother in Delhi, Me­hvish slipped off, se­cretly met with Ab­dul and mar­ried in Meerut, a nearby city, aged 20. “I was so happy. I’d dreamt of this mo­ment for

so long. I knew I al­ways wanted to be his wife,” she says. “I felt noth­ing could come be­tween us now. We were safe as man and wife and I truly be­lieved one day my fam­ily would ac­cept us.’’

But when she re­turned home she kept her mar­riage a se­cret. Since they couldn’t af­ford a ring, she didn’t have to worry about hid­ing it and car­ried on as nor­mal, wait­ing for the right time to an­nounce their news.

Her par­ents, how­ever, had other plans. “They be­gan look­ing for a groom for me,’’ she says. They ar­ranged for Me­hvish to marry one of her cousins in Novem­ber 2010.

“I was ter­ri­fied. I kept over­hear­ing them plan­ning my life, all the while I knew I was al­ready a wife to my true love. I kept send­ing let­ters to Ab­dul and we won­dered what to do.’’

On the run

Just 11 days be­fore her ar­ranged mar­riage, Me­hvish ran away with Ab­dul. “We were scared we’d be caught so we trav­elled around In­dia, by train and bus hid­ing in friends’ houses in places such as Ali­garh, Meerut and Mum­bai,’’ she says.

Back in the vil­lage, her in­censed fam­ily filed a kid­nap­ping case against Ab­dul and re­port­edly tar­geted his fam­ily through the tra­di­tional vil­lage coun­cil – a group of el­ders who en­force tra­di­tions and cus­toms in their com­mu­nity. If any­one fails to ad­here to their rules they im­pose strict pun­ish­ments.

Mem­bers of Ab­dul’s fam­ily were asked to leave the vil­lage, al­leges Me­hvish. But Ab­dul’s fa­ther, Ab­dul Hafiz, 76, re­fused to move. A few weeks later he was found dead, hanged from a tree. “The po­lice said it was sui­cide,’’ she says. “I don’t be­lieve that.’’

Fear­ing for their lives, Ab­dul and Me­hvish took refuge at the Love Com­man­dos, a New Delhi-based or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­tect­ing cou­ples on the run from their fam­i­lies. The or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vides shel­ter, le­gal and fi­nan­cial help and phys­i­cal pro­tec­tion to cou­ples. (Read our pre­vi­ous fea­ture on the or­gan­i­sa­tion in our June 7 is­sue http:// bit.ly/14jKrpn)

“I was dev­as­tated it had come to this,” Me­hvish says. “I wanted to live a happy life with my hus­band. I was so up­set. I had never ex­pected my fam­ily to be­have in such a way.

“Once we con­tacted the Love Com­man­dos they gave us ac­com­mo­da­tion for six months and put us in touch with some char­i­ties. The vol­un­teers also tried to ar­range po­lice se­cu­rity for us if we wanted to go back to our vil­lage.’’

The Love Com­man­dos also helped the cou­ple ap­pear on Aamir Khan’s TV show, on which Ab­dul an­nounced that he feared he would be killed be­cause of the mar­riage.

Ab­dul started work­ing as a rick­shaw driver in Delhi, earn­ing around Rs6,000 (Dh370) a month. They rented a house in Delhi, and in Au­gust 2011, Me­hvish gave birth to their first child, a girl Man­tasha Hakim.

“We were very happy,” she says. “We for­got all our mis­eries. We even hoped my fam­ily might have a change of heart now we had a child. I used to call my mother to try to con­vince her to ac­cept our mar­riage but she’d al­ways threaten me,” Me­hvish claims.

Mean­while, the Love Com­man­dos held dis­cus­sions with the po­lice and other au­thor­i­ties and man­aged to get the kid­nap­ping charges against Ab­dul dropped. That meant they could re­turn to their vil­lage.

“We didn’t be­lieve we were at risk go­ing back,” says Me­hvish. “We thought the po­lice were on our side so we were pro­tected. We re­ally be­lieved that slowly, as we lived close to our fam­i­lies, they’d come round.’’

In Au­gust 2012 Me­hvish be­came preg­nant for the sec­ond time. Too poor to pro­vide the safety of se­cure ac­com­mo­da­tion, she went to stay with Ab­dul’s fam­ily, who had moved to the nearby vil­lage of Bhat­garhi, un­til the baby was born.

“We were still ter­ri­fied of my fam­ily hurt­ing him, so Ab­dul used to sneak into the house at night. It was no life, it was like a prison but his safety was more im­por­tant.’’

Shot down in cold blood

Me­hvish re­mem­bers the day Ab­dul died clearly. “I had a se­vere headache and he de­cided to go out and buy the medicine,” she says. On his way back from the phar­macy he was am­bushed by a five-man gang, which Me­hvish claims in­cluded mem­bers of her fam­ily.

A neigh­bour’s child ran to tell Me­hvish what was hap­pen­ing. “I screamed and rushed to the place as fast as I could,’’ she says. See­ing her ap­proach, the at­tack­ers be­gan to flee. But not be­fore Ab­dul was shot in the neck.

“It’s an hor­ren­dous mem­ory. I hugged him and placed his head in my lap. Tears filled my eyes. He didn’t move; I just held him.

“He al­ways used to tell me he would die for me and in the end he ac­tu­ally did.’’

Three days later five men were ar­rested. Me­hvish was nine months preg­nant. “I have no idea how I coped. I went into au­topi­lot.”

Me­hvish now wants to build a me­mo­rial for her hus­band in her vil­lage. “I want to keep his mem­ory alive for those who hated him and killed him, and for those who ad­mire him for hav­ing courage,’’ she says.

She now lives with her in-laws and her two chil­dren un­der po­lice pro­tec­tion.

“It breaks my heart that Ab­dul never got to hold our sec­ond child,” she says. “I’m thank­ful I have his chil­dren. Ev­ery time I look at them I see their fa­ther. They are the proof of our love.’’

Bol­ly­wood star Aamir Khan hosted the cou­ple on his TV show be­fore Ab­dul was killed, leav­ing Me­hvish to bring up their two chil­dren on her own

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