“We are a legally married couple, and I am glad that court endorsed our union. No one can separate us now.”
That was 24-year-old Sruthi Meledath’s reaction to the Kerala High Court verdict on October 19 affirming her marriage to 26-year-old Anees Hameed. Meledath is Hindu, while Hameed is Muslim.
The couple shot into the spotlight earlier this month when Meledath testified in court about the physical and mental torture she had undergone at the Sivasakti Yogavidya Kendram in Ernakulam district.
The Yogavidya Kendram is among a handful of so-called reconversion centres functioning in Kerala in which Hindu women who have fallen in love with men from other religions are subjected to a variety of strategies, including coercion, to bring them back to Hinduism.
In the couple’s first media interview since they were reunited, Meledath told Scroll.in that she will continue to live as a Hindu while her husband will follow the faith into which he was born.
“This is our reply to proponents of fake ‘love jihad’ campaign,” Meledath said.
Love jihad is a term frequently used by Hindutva organisations to allege a conspiracy by Muslim men to marry women from other religions solely to convert them to Islam.
In addition to Meledath and Hameed, two other inter-faith couples have been dragged to court in recent months as Kerala experiences a wave of panic about religious conversions.
But as Justices V Chitambaresh and Satish Ninan noted when they endorsed Meledath’s marriage to Hameed, every case of inter-religious marriages cannot be classified as love jihad. They also ordered all reconversion centres to be shut down.
Hameed and Meledath, who hail from middle-class families in Kannur district, registered their marriage under the Special Marriage Act on October 9. “We never expected that our love affair would be termed as love jihad,” Meledath said. “Our only aim was to get married and live together.”
It took Hameed a six-month legal battle to absolve himself of the charges that he had married Meledath with the aim of taking her to Syria to fight for the militant Islamic State (IS) group.
“It will be difficult to forget all those tormenting days, but I am happy to be reunited with Sruthi,” Hameed said.
Meledath and Hameed met at the Pilathara Arts and Science College, which affiliated to the Kannur University, where they both studied physics from 2010 to 2013. Their friendship grew into love.
After they graduated, Meledath enrolled for a masters in physics at the Taliparamba Arts and Science College, which is also under the Kannur University. Hameed decided to do a professional certificate course in quality control in Kozhikode. After completing it, he signed up for a masters in business administration through correspondence. In 2015, he got a job as a marketing executive in a company in New Delhi.
Meledath’s parents began to pressure her to get married soon after she completed her masters degree, Hameed said. “So I went to her home along with my mother in May this year,” he said. “I told them that I am in love with her. But they were reluctant to accept me.”
When it became clear that her parents would not approve of the marriage, the couple decided to leave for New Delhi on May 16. “We had lived in Sonepat for a month,” said Meledath.
During that time, rumours began to spread in Kerala and in social media that a Muslim man had taken a Hindu woman with him to join the IS.
“I called her parents and told them that we were safe in New Delhi, and assured them that our plan was to live together and not to go to Syria,” Hameed said.
But Meledath’s parents filed a police complaint. “A police team came to New Delhi,” she said. “They arrested us and brought to Mangalore by flight on May 20. It was a harrowing experience.”
Hameed alleged that the police played a dirty trick to place Meledath in the custody of her parents. “The police officials told me that they would produce her before the Judicial First Class Magistrate on May 21 at 11 am,” he said. “But they produced her at the residence of the magistrate at 10:15am. The magistrate took note of my absence and asked Meledath to go with her parents.”
Meledath’s parents immediately took her to the Yogavidya Kendram.
“It was the beginning of a two-month ordeal,” she said. “I was taken to a torture hub.”
She said that the people who ran the centre would wake her up at 4am every day by pouring water on her face. “They forced me to do all household chores,” she said. “I didn’t get enough food to eat. More than 60 women who had fallen in love with men from other religions were at the centre at that time. All of us lived a miserable life.”
Even as Meledath was in the centre, Hameed was waging with the legal battle to get her back.
Based on a habeas corpus petition he filed in September, Meledath was produced in court, giving her an opportunity to talk about her experiences in the centre June 26 to August 22. She also insisted that she wanted to live with Hameed. The court spoke to her on October 10 before allowing her to go with Hameed.
In its order, the court observed that:
“We have observed that Sruthi [Meledath] has been in love with Anees [Hameed] for long which has blossomed into a permanent relationship leading to a marital tie. Sruthi [Meledath] with a sindoor one her forehead asserted that she would remain as a Hindu till death and that Anees [Hameed] would remain as Muslim and their marriage has now been registered too.
“We applaud the extraordinary courage shown by Sruthi [Meledath] to live up to her conviction and decry the attempt of her parents to deflect the course of justice by misleading litigations.”
Hameed now hopes Meledath’s family will accept them. “We want to have a good relationship with her parents,” he said.
‘Can they get me a job?’
Despite being reunited, the couple’s troubles aren’t over. Hameed said the Kerala Police officer who came to New Delhi to arrest them had ruined his career. “They had told my reporting manager that I was a member of IS and lured a Hindu girl to take her to Syria,” he said.
He isn’t sure he will get his old job back, or be able to find a new one soon.
What worries Meledath are the threatening posts about her on the Yoga Vidyakendram’s Facebook page. “I am worried whether they will plan a revenge attack on us,” she said. “The thought makes me nervous. They have people everywhere.”
But Anees has been telling her not to worry. “We got a favourable verdict from the High Court,” he said. “It clears the air about love jihad and gives a boost for inter-faith marriages.”
He added: “So our immediate task is to throw a party for our friends and relatives who stood with us during the difficult times.”
This article originally appeared on Scroll.in and has been reproduced here with permission.