‘Our wedding made front page news’

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By Jayanti Alam

VERY FEW love stories in India would have enjoyed the approval of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Javeed and mine was one. Since both of us belonged to the academia, we firmly believed that ours was an emancipated class. But that myth was to be broken during our reception where Javeed had to hear that he was a nice person despite being a Muslim and I was good despite “being a Hindu, that too a Bengali”.

A few days after our marriage, under the Special Marriages Act at the Tees Hazari Court, my parents threw a grand reception for us. Soon after, Javeed was expelled from his job as a lecturer at Delhi University’s Salwan College because he “had not taken the permission of the college chairman” who was a refugee from west Punjab and had witnessed his mother being slaughtered in front of his eyes while she was running away to India. That letter of termination was going to change our lives forever.

THE CPI and SSP MPs supported us. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called us and extended her support. Renowned barrister Siddhartha Shankar Ray and his wife offered to fight our case for free. By then our marriage had become stuff political fables are made of. We used to receive congratulatory letters from all over the world. News and photographs came out in Pakistan Times, Pravda, Guardian and The New York Times!

This was also the time when I’d receive postcards that read ‘If you don’t divorce Javeed, your parents will be killed’, followed by some that suggested that I might be abducted and gangraped. There were posters pasted on each pillar in Connaught Place that read “Jayanti kahan hai? Javeed Alam ki besharmee ki hudd; shaadi ke naam pe agwa…” The Jan Sangh, led by Balraj Madhok, gave provocative speeches in and around the college area. But the students shut the college gates, demanding the reinstatement of their ‘beloved teacher’. They would give fiery speeches, saying, “How can a Muslim lose his job for marrying a Hindu under India’s ‘secular’ Constitution, particularly when the prime minister of India had married a non-Hindu and her elder son has just married a Christian?” One of them had even left his parents and started staying with us because they were staunch Jan Sanghis.

Javeed and I also made our way to literature. The famous Bengali novelist Samaresh Basu wrote a novel on us. Our conversations in the lush greens of Sapru House in JNU inspired him. Later, a lawyer called Mr Gauba interviewed us and wrote a book on similar cases. This is when we realised that about eight lecturers had lost their jobs for having married outside their religion. While we had not gone to court, a Haryana court had quoted the ‘Javeed Alam case’ while giving a verdict on a similar case.

On the personal front, the owner of the flat we lived in was what we believed to be a bad combination: a Punjabi police officer. But he refused to take rent for months when Javeed was unemployed. It wasn’t society that looked down upon us but communal elements like Jan Sangh. We were in love. But it was our love for the secular and democratic values of the Indian Republic that gave us the strength to stand by our convictions.

Photo: Ramakrishna Reddy

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