Devi Singh married Heena in July after knowing her for 13 years. Now he is in a hospital in Northwest Delhi with a bullet in his head – allegedly fired by her brother Shahnawaz who reportedly objected to the interfaith union.
“There is just one percent chance that he will make it but we are praying that he does,” said Archana, Devi’s elder sister, waiting outside the ICU with Heena. “Even if he has to live on a bed his whole life, it’s okay. He should just survive.”
“Religion led to this crime,” she said. “If he doesn't survive, four lives will be lost: his, Heena’s, and our parents.”
Devi is a 29-year-old gym owner with seven siblings. The bullet has reportedly damaged his brain and, according to his family, doctors have said his chances of survival are very slim.
The couple, who live in Adarsh Nagar, had not informed their families before the wedding in July as they were sure they would face resistance. While Devi’s family eventually came around, and was planning to celebrate Diwali with the couple, Heena’s family cut off ties with her.
Until Saturday, when Devi received a call from Shahnawaz while eating dinner at home around 10 pm. Shahnawaz said he wanted to meet Heena, who is 24 years old, and the couple assumed he missed her as, at the age of 20, he was the youngest among his siblings.
Devi could never finish that dinner.
After initially meeting at Panchwati, the three decided to go to Model Town to eat and talk. Devi dropped Heena first and then returned to pick up Shahnawaz and his friend Hritik to take them there. Security camera stills, as seen by Newslaundry, show Devi being shot in the head at 11.40 pm.
Shahnawaz and Harshil, also known as Hritik, were arrested on Sunday, according to Dinesh Kumar, station house officer of Model Town police station. Two country-made pistols were also recovered, police said.
According to a statement given to the police, Shahnawaz said that he was taunted by people about his sister running away and getting married to a Hindu. An FIR was registered under sections 307 (attempt to murder) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act at the Model Town police station.
Archana said they had not told their parents how serious Devi’s condition was or let them meet him. His mother, a heart patient, has not been informed that he was shot in the head, she said. “They would not be able to take it.”
Devi’s sister said they were trying not to give any negative information about her brother’s health to Heena, who “has been fainting and stopped eating or drinking water”.
“I don’t know how her life will go on,” she said. “They got married after a lot of struggle. I met her for the first time on Karva Chauth. We had hesitations initially and felt weird that we were informed of the wedding only after it was done but then accepted it, as long as he is happy. We were currently making plans of getting them to move back home with us.”
Objections to interfaith relationships
“The accused said they did this because Heena joined a Hindu family. They are arrested, but we will only be satisfied once they get the punishment that fits the crime,” Ravindra Singh, Devi’s elder brother, told Newslaundry. “If they were really against the marriage, they could have taken Heena back but they directly took a drastic step instead of talking about it.”
Newslaundry could not reach the family of the accused for comment.
Singh said that he found out about the incident after getting a call from Devi’s friends, after the police took him to a hospital. They had to shift him to a private hospital on the advice of doctors as he was critical.
Objections to interfaith marriages in India are common. A by the Pew Research Centre in July this year had estimated that two of every three Indians are opposed to people marrying outside their religion. The country earlier saw a growing number of “honour killings” – cases soared by nearly 800 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year. In August, union minister of state for home Ajay Kumar Mishra told the Lok Sabha that at least 145 incidents were reported between 2017 and 2019.
In 2019, 589 marriages were registered under the Special Marriage Act in Delhi. The city has also seen a number of couples arrive from neighbouring states such as Uttar Pradesh, which recently passed the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, according to social workers and experts.
“In Delhi, the situation is considerably better, but people still have taboos in their minds,” said Asif Khan, founder of Dhanak of Humanity, an NGO that helps interfaith couples. “When someone is conscious about the situation, when someone comes and taunts them about it – like it seems to be in this case – they take it personally and feel insulted...When we try to create dialogue between families of an interfaith couple, it is nearly impossible. They consider interfaith marriages a crime and a sin.”