‘Can anyone keep a Brahmin’s daughter?’: In UP’s Sitapur, manhunt for a ‘love jihad’ couple

The Hindu Yuva Vahini is involved while a former VHP leader plans to do a ‘purification’ ceremony once the woman is found.

‘Can anyone keep a Brahmin’s daughter?’: In UP’s Sitapur, manhunt for a ‘love jihad’ couple
Neetu Shukla's mother, Rekha.
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On WhatsApp, a man is telling his relative a story, how he said “jannat milegi” to a woman. You’ll go to heaven. The woman apparently rebuffed him, replying: "Main Hindu hoon.” I am Hindu.

This exchange forms part of “electronic evidence” gathered by the Tambour police in a purported case of “love jihad” in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur. This exchange was not even between the couple in question on WhatsApp, but this doesn’t seem to matter.

Jubraeel, 24, and Neetu Shukla, 19, allegedly eloped in the early hours of November 24 from Makhu Behad village, where they both live. Her father filed a complaint stating that she had eloped. On November 26, an FIR was filed under penal provisions related to kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel her into marriage.

Six weeks on, Jubraeel and Neetu remain untraceable. At least 15 police teams have been deployed to search for them; five teams went to Lucknow and Bahraich, and another to the Nepal border, but with no luck. Jubraeel’s phone has been switched off since November 24. His mobile signal was last tracked to Naipalapur, around 2.5 km from Makhu Behad.

Meanwhile, 13 members of Jubraeel’s family have been arrested. The police allege that they were involved in “planning” Neetu’s “kidnapping and forced conversion”. About 30 people have been interrogated so far.

This is just another nightmare in Uttar Pradesh, where chief minister Adityanath’s new “anti-conversion law” has paved the way for the Hindutva conspiracy theory of “love jihad” to make a violent comeback. The conspiracy theory is that Muslim men seduce and marry Hindu women with the sole purpose of converting them to Islam.

Hindu supremacist groups have seized upon the new law to act as crusaders against “love jihad”, identifying and targeting interfaith couples where the woman is Hindu. For families whose adult daughters have chosen partners without their blessing, the law has made it easier to go after the groom.

But what’s curious in Jubraeel’s case is that the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Ordinance 2020 was promulgated only on November 28 – two days after the FIR was filed. How did the police apply it retrospectively to Jubraeel?

‘We’d prefer it if her postmortem is done’

“It is embarrassing to face relatives. Just the other day my brother visited. He didn’t say anything so I knew I can’t visit my parents’ home for sometime,” Neetu's mother Rekha Shukla, 35, said, breaking down. “We would prefer it if her postmortem is done.”

Sarvesh Shukla.

Sarvesh Shukla.

Sarvesh's police complaint.

Sarvesh's police complaint.

The FIR filed in the case.

The FIR filed in the case.

At around midnight on November 23, Neetu, a student of Class 12, went missing from her home. Her father, Sarvesh Shukla, went to the police the next day but managed to file his complaint only on November 26 at Sitapur’s Tambour police station. He wrote that his daughter had “eloped with a boy”.

“She used to talk with someone on the mobile. I’m not sure of his identity,” Sarvesh said in his complaint. “The opposite party is Muslim. There is a threat to the life and honour of my daughter.”

Sarvesh did not name anyone in his complaint, so the FIR was filed against “unknown persons”.

On November 27, a day after the FIR was registered, Sarvesh wrote a letter to Rakesh Prakash Singh, the police superintendent of Sitapur. This letter, unlike the complaint, named seven people from Makhu Behad as being responsible.

“My daughter has been misled,” he wrote, “and made to elope with intent of religious conversion.” He named Jubraeel, his mother, two brothers, sister-in-law, and two cousins. The letter added that the Tambour police had taken no action yet.

Strangely, the letter to Singh mentioned Neetu’s age as 17. However, her marksheets and Aadhaar card state she is 19. So does the FIR. This is crucial, since it’s the difference between her being a minor and an adult.

Sarvesh and Rekha, who still state Neetu is 17 years old, claimed that “official documents” in villages often don’t show the correct age. Rekha added that her daughter took along her Aadhaar card and marksheets when she eloped, possibly to show as proof of her being an adult.

Newslaundry met Rekha and Sarvesh at their two-room pucca house on December 16. Neetu’s schoolbag lies in a corner. The house has police protection to avoid “untoward incidents” given how politicised “love jihad” has been made.

Sarvesh is a farmer and rears and sells buffaloes. He claimed to have had no idea Neetu had or used a mobile phone; his theory is that she used his spare phone without him knowing. Yet this contradicts his statement in the police complaint that Neetu “used to talk with someone on the mobile”. However, both Rekha and Sarvesh clearly had mixed feelings about talking about their daughter’s disappearance, since to them, it’s a question of their “honour”.

Sarvesh said his savings of Rs 2 lakh are missing. His younger daughter, a student of Class 5, has stopped going to school since her sister left.

Sarvesh and Rekha had been planning to get Neetu married once she completed school. “She wanted to study further and pursue a BA course,” Rekha said. “We told her she can pursue higher studies after marriage.”

Jubraeel was familiar to the Shukla family. He used to drive a minivan hired by villagers – Sarvesh included, according to a local journalist – to ferry animals. Another journalist told Newslaundry that Jubraeel and Neetu had known each other for four years. “Jubraeel would often escort her to school during exams,” he said.

Sarvesh and Rekha strongly denied that their daughter had been in a relationship with Jubraeel. Yet they are sure he’s involved with her disappearance, since he went missing the same night as Neetu. Now, they’re very worried that Jubraeel will “convert” Neetu.

“How can they get married without conversion?” Rekha said. “Can anyone keep a Brahmin’s daughter just like that?”

Neetu's schoolbag in her home.

Neetu's schoolbag in her home.

Rekha Shukla.

Rekha Shukla.

Jubraeel's house ransacked.

Jubraeel's house ransacked.

When asked whether he had heard the term “love jihad” before, Sarvesh said, “I am illiterate. I don’t understand these things.”

Jubraeel’s house, where he used to live with his family, is only a few metres away from Neetu’s, one of around a dozen Muslim homes in Makhu Behad. Its door is broken and his belongings are strewn across the floor. His family members are in jail.

A neighbour told Newslaundry the house was ransacked by the police when they came looking for Jubraeel, though a senior official at the Tambour police station denied this allegation.

Hindutva groups tracking the case

Jubraeel and Neetu vanished on November 24. The FIR was filed on November 26.

But the “love jihad” law, as the ordinance is infamously known, was only promulgated on November 28. Police officials in Tambour told Newslaundry that they received an application from the superintendent’s office on November 30, after which sections from the new law were added to the FIR.

The police superintendent, Rajiv Dixit, did not respond when asked about the retrospective application of the ordinance. The district magistrate of Sitapur and other police officials also did not respond to queries.

The Shukla family aren’t alone in trying to find their daughter. A three-member team from the Hindu Yuva Vahini’s Sitapur chapter has been regularly visiting the Tambour police station to keep tabs on the case.

The Hindu Yuva Vahini is a Hindu supremacist militia founded by Adityanath in 2002. Its crusade against “love jihad” started years ago. In 2018, for instance, its members accused a couple of “love jihad” and thrashed them in front of the police.

Uttam Singh, the group’s district president, told Newslaundry: “We are helping the family and come here to get updates from the police.” Singh said they have a network of 35-40 workers in and around Makhu Behad, with various teams active at the village level. There are 3,600 volunteers in Sitapur alone.

At the Tambour police station, the team has long conversations with Amit Bhaduaria, the officer in charge of Neetu and Jubraeel’s case.

“We also exchange information directly with the Sitapur SP and pass on clues about persons whom we suspect, so that their numbers can be put on surveillance,” Singh boasted. To him, “love jihad” is nothing but the “brainwashing” of a Hindu woman by a Muslim man.

Abhinav Mishra, a lawyer who at the Sitapur district court, has been a member of the group for five years and is its district general secretary. He’s also acting as the family’s lawyer in the case.

He told Newslaundry that Neetu and Jubraeel first went to Badaun in Uttar Pradesh, and then to Punjab, according to his interactions with the investigating officers. “The cash missing from the house...hints that an organised network is at play here,” he said.

To explain the Vahini’s work, Mishra said that two years ago they had discovered “illegal conversion” of Hindu women by Kashmiri Muslims.

“A family of Thakurs in Laharpur tehsil were pressured to convert to Islam,” he said. “They were trapped by a group of Muslim men from Kashmir who often disguise themselves as shawl sellers and carry out illegal conversion.” He claimed to have videos of these “Kashmiri Muslims” admitting to their “plot”.

Tambour police station.

Tambour police station.

Abhinav Mishra, a member of the Hindu Yuva Vahini.

Abhinav Mishra, a member of the Hindu Yuva Vahini.

Lalla Singh Chauhan (left) and his son Arjun Singh.

Lalla Singh Chauhan (left) and his son Arjun Singh.

Apart from the Hindu Yuva Vahini, there are other interested parties to the matter.

Arjun Singh, a resident of nearby Kalnapur village, is a former leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Yuva Morcha. His brother is the Hindu Yuva Vahini’s Uttam Singh. His father, Lalla Singh Chauhan, is a former regional head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who participated in Babri Masjid’s demolition in 1992 as a karsevak.

Chauhan told Newslaundry that he is a “kattar Hindu”. “Parents need to keep an eye on their girls,” he advised. “They should ask questions if the girls are coming home late.”

Chauhan and Arjun believe there are “love jihad” “accounts” everywhere. By “accounts”, they mean local madrasas and mosques, where they think Muslim men are taught how to “lure” Hindu women. They also believe that the “rates” of girls are fixed on the basis of caste and class. For example, marrying a Brahmin woman will earn you a higher amount than marrying a Rajput.

Chauhan said they are prepared to conduct a shuddhi, or purification, ceremony for Neetu if she returns home. “With gangajal and tulsi, we should be able to take her back into our fold.”

All photos by Akanksha Kumar.

This is the fourth story in a series on the human cost of the Hindutva ecosystem’s ‘love jihad’ campaign. Read the other stories here.

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. Contribute to our new project, On A Godman’s Trail, and help keep news free and independent.

Also Read :
‘We saved a girl’s honour’: How Hindu Mahasabha stopped an interfaith marriage in Lucknow
How Hindutva vigilantes are battling ‘love jihad’ in Madhya Pradesh
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