Haryana’s runaway couples seek refuge in safe houses

Even as the world celebrates love on Valentine’s Day (February 14), a few couples in Haryana, who tied the knot with a partner of their choice against their families’ diktat and were subsequently issued death threats, will be spending the day locked in safe houses across the state.

At present, there are four couples in a safe house in Jind, three in Rohtak and one in Sonepat.

Three cops stand guard outside a 15ft by 15ft room in the corner of a PWD guest house, where four runaway couples have taken refuge.The couples from different backgrounds and castes share a room, which has a single washroom, and make do with a few utensils. The gate of the room remains locked from outside and as the locals believe that the couples could be a bad influence on their children.

“Yes, this room seems to be too small to accommodate four couples, but it is the only place where people understand us,” says Pradeep, a government school teacher who married a Nancy, a clerk, who worked at the same school but was from a different caste: “We don’t just share the room and food but our love stories with couples who are in the same predicament as us.”

“We have not broken any law but the way people reacted to our nuptials, one would think we had committed a grave crime”, says Nancy. “My elder brother and uncle are resolutely against our marriage. They threatened us of dire consequences should we go against their wishes, leaving us with little choice but to runaway.”

Reena, 19, and Vivek, 21, of Kaithal have been in the safe house for over a week. Their marriage raised eyebrows in their community because Vivek’s cousin is married to Reena’s uncle and according to them Reena is Vivek’s niece.

“We met at Vaishno Devi Temple and my sister helped me get her phone number. We exchanged messages and gradually fell in love,” says Vivek. A blushing Reena adds, “Though, we are both from the Jat community, our parents say we cannot marry.”

For 20-year-old Vikram and 18-year-old Rita of Karnal it was love at first sight. “I began frequenting Rita’s neighbourhood frequently and one day asked her to marry me. Though we belong to the same caste our community was dead set against our union because we live in the same village. Our parents’ value the community’s approval more than their children’s happiness.”

Vikram, who is unemployed, had to go to jail after Rita’s family found out about their marriage and forced her to file a kidnapping case against him but Rita soon changed her statement and the two sought police protection.

Similarly, Suman and Vimal of Karnal could not win their families favour because they live in the same colony and belong to different castes. “My parents said they will have to leave their ancestral home if we got married but we decided to get married in court and then sought police protection,”says Suman.

Protection officer Santosh Rani says she remembers the stories of most couples who have stayed at the safe house over two years. “Despite incidents of honour killings in the state and attack on youngsters for choosing their own partners, these couples have gone ahead and followed their hearts,” she says, adding that six months ago as many as 16 couples had been sharing the room.

The authorities provide them with shelter and protection but they have to arrange their own bedding and food.

Pulkit, 24 and Priya , 21, are the only couple in the Sonepat safe house. The two got married two weeks ago at a temple in Delhi against the wishes of their parents. Now, they are living in fear of their lives. Pulkit says his parents are against the marriage because Priya belongs to the scheduled caste.

“Our close friends helped us to get to Delhi. We first married in a temple and then moved to a court for marriage registration,” he said.

The couple approached the police after being on the run for six days.

The 24-year-old, a graduate said that he met Priya through social media and befriended her. “ After chatting with each other for some months, we had exchanged phone numbers. A few months later we decided to marry each other but our parents refused to accept our relationship. Falling in love and going for an inter-caste marriage is a risky job, especially in Haryana but we ignored all social divides,” he said.

The couple says that unlike other newly-wed couples, they were not greeted with congratulatory messages, wishes or blessings. “We know we will have to face financial difficulties once we get out of the shelter. We are hoping our parents will support our decision at the end of the day,” he said.

Assistant sub-inspector Saroj Devi, posted at safe home in Jind says she has provided protection to 5,022 couples in Jind so far since 2012.

“Jind is the land of love and I am been enjoying my job protecting newly wed couples. In the past three to four years, the number of couples choosing to marry in the same gotra, caste and village has increased manifold. We give them a security cover for seven days and also inform their parents. Usually, parents are rude initillaby but gradually accept the marriages. Nobody, has threatened me in the last eight years,” she says.

Tulsi Grewal, president of the Meham Chaubisi khap says, “We have been promoting inter-caste marriage but our society cannot accept marriages in same gotra, same village and neighbouring villages.

“We are against the honour killings and we have been spreading awareness about the same since January 2014. In villages, we consider every boy and a girl as siblings and their marriages cannot be accepted,” he said.

(The names of the couples have been changed)

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