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“I held my baby for a few minutes before letting it go down the toilet,” said Muskan, who specifically told us to call her Muskan and not Pinki.
“I willingly converted to Islam and adopted the name Muskan,” she explained. “I wish people, including the media, could respect that.”
On December 5, Muskan and Mohammed Rashid became the first couple to be held under Uttar Pradesh’s newly brought , infamous as the “love jihad law”. Rashid was sent to jail. Muskan spent four days in Nari Niketan, which state officials call a “shelter home” and Muskan describes as “a jail”, and two more days in a Moradabad hospital before returning home to her in-laws on December 15.
She was three months pregnant when the couple were held, but now she lies in bed, wearing a sanitary pad, waiting for whatever is left of her baby to bleed out of her.
“Rashid doesn’t know yet. He was the happiest man on earth when he found out we were having a baby,” Muskan said when we met her at her home on December 18. “It’ll break him when I tell him what happened.”
Rashid, after spending two weeks in jail along with his brother, was let out by a local court on December 19 after the police could not produce any evidence of forced conversion against him.
“They killed my baby,” Muskan whispered, lying under a blanket.
Who is “they”? And why does she believe her baby was “killed”?
Love is a crime
Today, there is nothing personal about Muskan and Rashid’s love. The love they once quietly and intimately shared has been violently turned into a public spectacle, a political cudgel to beat the Muslim minority with.
Muskan is a year older than Rashid. They met a year ago in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, where she was employed with a finance company and he worked in a salon. “I was the one who proposed to him. He was very shy,” Muskan said, smiling. The two got secretly married in Dehradun on July 24. Soon after, Pinki converted to Islam and adopted the name Muskan.
Their secret, it turned out, wasn’t really a secret. They started getting threatening calls. On July 28, Muskan wrote to the senior superintendent of police, Dehradun, complaining that the couple were receiving death threats and threats of forceful separation over the phone. Fearing that their lives might be in danger, she asked the police to take necessary action. Her letter was stamped as received by the police on August 5.
A little over a month later, as both their offices were shut owing to the pandemic, they returned to Rashid’s home in Moradabad. There, they informed their families about their marriage who initially resisted but eventually relented to the couple’s wishes.
In October, about a fortnight after she had missed her period, Muskan took a pregnancy test and learned that she was with child. The couple were elated, and Rashid’s family eagerly started preparations to welcome the baby.
On December 5, the couple, along with Rashid’s relatives, went to the district court in Moradabad’s Kanth to register as husband and wife. “It was a very special moment for us. We were very happy,” said Muskan.
On the way back, they were stopped by a group of Bajrang Dal members.
They asked what Muskan’s name was and she instinctively said “Pinki”.
Why was a Hindu woman wearing a burqa? the leader of the Bajrang Dal group – who would turn out to be Monu Vishnoi, the extremist Hindutva group’s vice president in Moradabad – demanded to know.
Thus began the couple’s nightmare. Muskan said she pleaded with the Hindutva group that she had married Rashid of her own will, but they wouldn’t listen. They dragged Muskan and Rashid to the police station, where their marriage was suspected to be a criminal act as per the new law.
“At the station, the Bajrang Dal men were doing all the talking. It was almost as if the police were merely acting as per their instructions,” Naseem Jahan, Muskan’s mother-in-law, recalled.
The same day, Muskan’s mother lodged an FIR, allegedly under pressure from the Bajrang Dal. The FIR invoked provisions of the new ordinance that lay down that no person shall convert or try to convert any person from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, fraudulent means, or by marriage. Any person found guilty of doing so will be punished with imprisonment of 1-5 years and a fine of up to Rs 15,000.
Muskan told Newslaundry they were not given a copy of the FIR.
Based on the FIR, Rashid and his brother Saleem were arrested while Muskan, after eight hours in the station, was sent to Nari Niketan.
Muskan at her home.
Miscarriage at shelter home
Muskan had told the Bajrang Dal men as well as the police that she was pregnant. So, when she has suffered a miscarriage in custody, she suspected that her baby had been aborted without her consent or knowledge.
Why does she think so?
At 2:25 am on December 6, Muskan was escorted by a policeman and a policewoman and signed into Nari Niketan. Her phone was taken away and she was told she would stay there until her case was decided. “It was not a shelter home. It was like jail. They made us work and the lady there would shout at us all the time,” said Muskan. “It all felt like torture.”
Rajesh Gupta, the district provisional officer, insisted that “Nari Niketan is a shelter home for destitute women”. He supervises the home regularly and told Newslaundry that there are eight CCTV cameras inside. “I went through them all and she wasn’t tortured,” he said.
Nari Niketan is a rundown building in one of the gallis in Kanth. The compound wall is high. As if to block any outside gaze, another blue metallic fence is mounted atop of the wall. When we rattled the tall iron gate, locked from inside, a policeman opened a smaller gate built into it. When we introduced ourselves, the person in charge, Binod Balasrivastava, said, “You are both women so I will let you in.”
Muskan stayed in Nari Niketan until December 13. But she was signed out by the police and taken for checkups at the local women’s district hospital on December 7 and 10.
On December 11, Muskan felt pain in her abdomen. She is still not sure why. “They didn’t give me any medicine or any injection in Nari Niketan. We were fed dal, roti, and sometimes rice,” she said. “But after two days staying there, I started feeling a lot of pain. Till then I had had no issues with my pregnancy.”
The police again arrived and, at 11:25 am, took Muskan to the hospital. “They did an x-ray and she quickly came back,” said Balasrivastava, who runs the shelter home.
After returning from the hospital, Muskan’s pain only worsened. So, she was taken there again by the police at around 5:30pm. And this time she was admitted for a day.
Muskan returned to Nari Niketan in the morning on December 13, but as her pain shot up again she was taken back by 2:30 pm. “After that she did not return to us,” said Balasrivastava. “She was a quiet girl and because of Covid, I had put her bed in a corner of the room. She would just lie down and rest all the time. She didn’t cry, except for when her pain worsened. Until then she was fine.”
Nari Niketan, where Muskan was lodged for four days.
Binod Balasrivastava runs Nari Niketan.
Treatment in the hospital
When she was admitted in the hospital on December 11, Muskan said, her blood pressure was checked and found to be normal. Then, she was given an injection but she doesn’t know what it was for.
The next day, an ultrasound was done. She doesn’t know what it showed since the hospital did not share it with her or her family. On December 13 and 14, she was given two injections per day, along with some tablets. On the evening of December 14, an hour after getting the last of the injections, she began “shivering and sweating heavily”. “And all of sudden,” she remembered, “I started bleeding a lot.”
This is when she lost her child. “When I went to the toilet and checked the blood I saw a big chunk of flesh,” she said, taking out her hand from under the blanket to indicate the size of the mass. “I knew it was my baby. I held it for a few minutes before letting it go down the toilet.”
After Muskan’s miscarriage was reported in the media, Dr Vishesh Gupta, chairman of the Uttar Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, insisted that Muskan’s baby was “safe”. “As of 14 December, she was fine and there was no forced abortion. I told the district provisional officer, Moradabad, to get the woman medically tested. Her ultrasound reports clearly showed she was three months pregnant,” he reiterated to Newslaundry.
Though Muskan clearly remembered bleeding heavily in the hospital, Gupta maintained, “If she has suffered a miscarriage it was only after December 14.”
Muskan was reunited with her in-laws on December 15. The next day her mother-in-law took her for an ultrasound and x-ray in neighboring Bijnor.
The ultrasound confirmed that Muskan had lost her child. “The report of this ultrasound shows no signs of pregnancy,” a senior doctor in Delhi who vetted the report told Newslaundry. “It does indicate that there may be infection/inflammation in the lining of the uterus and because of this there is bleeding.”
The report isn’t signed, however, and neither Muskan nor her mother-in-law remembered the name of the doctor who had conducted it.
Sections 312, 313 and 315 of the Indian Penal Code mandate that if a women with child is “forced to miscarry in bad faith”, or forced into a “miscarriage without woman's consent”, or “any act done with bad intent to prevent a child being born alive” is carried out, then those responsible must be punished.
Muskan has repeatedly alleged that she was subjected to a “forced abortion”, yet the authorities in Uttar Pradesh have not bothered to conduct an investigation.
Mohammad Rashid's house.
Contradictions in claims
Nirmala Pathak, the acting chief medical superintendent of the Moradabad hospital where Muskan was admitted, told Newslaundry that her December 14 ultrasound showed her foetus was in her uterus and was “7 weeks and 5 days old”.
Contradicting Gupta of the child protection commission, Pathak added, “We couldn’t trace the child’s heartbeat. So even though the foetus had not come out of the uterus I can’t confirm if the foetus was alive or dead by December 14.”
According to Pathak, they referred Muskan to the Meerut Medical College because she needed to do a transvaginal sonography test to find out her child’s condition. She noted that Muskan’s was a ” high-risk case” because she was at a very early stage in her pregnancy.
Why wasn’t Muskan given copies of her reports? “Since it is a medicolegal case, we gave copies of all her reports to the lady in charge of Nari Niketan,” Pathak said. “And this will go to the district magistrate as well.”
Could we see or get a copy of the medicolegal certificate? No, Pathak replied, hesitantly admitting that her hospital had not actually conducted a medicolegal examination. She vaguely justified this by claiming Muskan had been brought “only for medical treatment by the police”.
We enquired with Balashrivastava as also the district provisional officer and they both claimed to have given all of Muskan’s medical reports to the police.
Pathak’s claims, meanwhile, were corroborated by Dr Ranveer Singh, who saw Muskan in the emergency ward. Besides confirming everything Pathak had said, he added that the injections given to Muskan were administered to her by Pathak herself “to stop the vaginal bleeding”.
Rajesh Gupta is the district provisional officer, Moradabad.
First time in law, but not practise
Rashid is now out on bail. Muskan is weak and quietly mourning the loss of her child.
Nearly 4 km away from Rashid’s home, Monu Vishnoi of the Bajrang Dal dusts his shop selling snacks, brightly painted in saffron. After saying a quick prayer to the idols placed in a corner of his shop, he sits down to speak to us. It was Monu who had stopped Muskan and Rashid on their way back from registering their marriage and led them to the police station.
How did the Bajrang Dal get to know about Muskan and Rashid?
“Our workers gave us the information. Since I was attending a wedding, I asked the workers to check if it was true. As soon as it was confirmed, we went to the spot,” he said.
“Who were these workers?” we asked. Vishnoi launched into a monologue explaining how the Bajrang Dal’s intricate network works.
In Moradabad alone, he claimed, 200-300 men currently worked for the Bajrang Dal, though not all of them identified openly with the extremist group. “Our workers are at every lane, every intersection, every street corner. We have our own secret intelligence service who never reveal their identities. They will never come out in front of anyone, even the media. There are also 15-20 women who volunteer for us.”
The group routinely holds meetings where “matters are discussed and decided”, and tasks given to the workers. “For example, there is a cow protection department and a spiritual talk department,” he explained. “The spiritual talk department does preaching work among the public. We spread awareness about the organisation, we chant Hanuman hymns and Shri Ram prayers, and we conduct prayer meets.”
Most of the workers also get training in physical combat daily. “Since we can’t all gather in one place, these training sessions happen at different centres,” Vishnoi said but refused to disclose the exact time or location of these “training sessions”. The workers are trained in karate and in fighting with sticks and rods.
What’s all this training for? Vishnoi smiled and said, “Well, think of it as physical exercise. It is good for the body, but also who knows when we might have to fight. Best to be prepared.”
Though Muskan and Rashid are the first couple to be held under the “love jihad” law, this is not the first time Vishnoi or his group have interfered in an interfaith marriage.
“We have been doing this work for long,” he boasted. “It’s just that now it has finally come into law.”
Why are they doing it? Vishnoi claimed that the Hindu girls were being “brainwashed” by Muslim men and the Bajrang Dal was merely doing a “service” to the Hindu society by “saving” such women. “It is a social and religious service we are doing,” he reiterated. “There is nothing political to it. Pinky was pressured into marriage.”
He elobarted that whenever the Bajranj Dal’s workers learn that a Hindu woman is “in touch with” a Muslim man, they inform the girl’s family and “counsel” them before the situation goes “out if hand”.
He wouldn’t say how many such relationships or marriages his group had meddled in.
Muskan and her in-laws suspect that in their case it was a local lawyer who informed the Bajrang Dal about their marriage. Rashid’s family had contacted the lawyer for help registering the marriage. We asked the lawyer if he knew about Muskan and Rashid, but he refused to answer.
After the Bajrang Dal men had caught hold of them on December 5, Muskan and her in-laws also alleged, they thrashed Rashid and his brother.
Monu Vishnoi denied this allegation and blamed “anti-Hindu channels such as NDTV” for misreporting the incident. “I am telling you this one NDTV channel is sold out. It’s an anti-Hindu channel and only talks against Hindus,” he declared. “We only watch Republic Bharat.”
As we spoke, Vishnoi was joined by some local members of the Bajrang Dal. They complained that journalists covering “love jihad” were Muslim and that there was no unity among “our Hindu journalists”. “All Muslim journalists in these channels have shown this case in a convoluted manner, be it Aaj Tak or anyone else,” Vishnoi declated, “You guys should think a little bit about your dharam while working.”
Is their group backed by the Uttar Pradesh police?
“Why would the police back us?” asked Vishnoi. “Three cases were filed against us when we stopped trucks involved in cow smuggling. That’s how the police have shown support to us.”
Did they know Muskan was pregnant when they dragged her to the police station? Vishnoi said her mother-in-law had told them, and added, “What does that have to do with anything? A crime was happening and we saved her and maybe her child too.”
Monu Vishnoi in his shop.
'I can’t lose him now'
Vishnoi told us that aside from “issues of love jihad”, the Bajrang Dal didn’t have any problem with Muslims in their area. “We are fine with them,” he claimed.
Now that Muskan has made clear that she wants to be with Rashid, what does Vishnoi have to say? “Our job is not to take the law into our hands. We informed the police and our job is done,” he said. “Now if she chooses to live a life of indignity, what can we do?”
But if Muskan chooses to return to Hinduism, he added, the Bajrang Dal will make sure she is married to a Hindu man as soon as possible.
As we finished talking and got up, we said shukriya, a commonly used Urdu word meaning thank you. Vishnoi was offended and said, “You must say dhanyavad, that’s the right word. Shukriya is an urdu word. We Hindus should not use it.”
In Nari Niketan, meanwhile, another young woman in love with a Muslim man is hiding from her family. While talking to us about Muskan, Balashrivastava mentioned that among the 35-40 women staying in the shelter home was another girl “like Muskan”. “She is a minor and in love with a Muslim. Her parents do not accept the relationship so she escaped them and came here. This is not the first time this is happening. Usually in such cases, once the child is 18, we let them go with whoever they want, the parents or the Muslim boy.”
But with the “love jihad law” in place, Balashrivastava is not sure what will happen to the woman now. She refused to let us speak to her.
When we asked Muskan about what she made of the new law, she stared back at us numbly. “Law or no law I love him. I only want my Rashid back. I have already lost my baby, I can’t lose him now,” she said.
Today, after Rashid and his brother were released from jail, we spoke with their cousin Mohammed Amin over the phone. Rashid seemed “physically fine but quite weak”, he said.
Did he know about the child? “Yes, he does,” Amin replied, “but he hasn’t responded to it yet.”
Diksha Munjal and Rebecca Verghese contributed reporting.
Pictures by Nidhi Suresh and Anna Priyadarshini.
This is the first story in a series on the human cost of the Hindutva ecosystem’s ‘love jihad’ campaign.
This report is part of the NL Sena project which 109 of our readers have contributed to so far. It was made possible thanks to Mayank Garg, Rahul Kohli, and other NL Sena members. and help keep news free and independent.