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Muslim Sanskrit prof, RSS Muslim leader and the Aligarh talaq case behind Modi govt U-turn

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The discord in the marriage of Khalid Khan and Yasmeen Khalid sounds like any other. But local politics apparently spurred the NDA govt to propose criminalising triple talaq.

Aligarh: A Muslim who is a Sanskrit professor in Aligarh Muslim University and is probably the only Ph.D., in the vedas in India. His politically active, party-hopping wife. Two daughters who sing bhajans. Marital discord. Triple talaq on WhatsApp and SMS. An eager-beaver Muslim RSS activist. An RSS ideologue out to prove a point. And a ruling party always eyeing the next opportunity to spread its wings.

It has all the ingredients for a melodramatic Hindi TV serial or even a Bollywood production, at a pinch. But the story of Khalid Khan and Yasmeen Khalid is all too real. So real that it is being cited as the reason for the NDA government to propose an overarching law to criminalise instant triple talaq after having three months back said that there was no need for such a law.

It all started sometime in the middle of October, two months after the Supreme Court declared instant triple talaq unconstitutional, giving a major victory to women’s rights activists who had been campaigning against it for years.

A hapless-looking Yasmeen Khalid appears on TV news channels and beseeches the prime minister and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh to save her from a cruel, abusive husband and father of three children. A husband, she alleges, didn’t think twice before abandoning his wife by simply uttering talaq thrice after 23 years of marriage.

The fallout is swift and positions are easily taken considering Khalid Khan is a senior professor in AMU, a university fighting to maintain its minority character in the face of government attempts to make it more “diverse”. How even an educated Muslim man can be so fanatical and unabashedly violate the diktats of the Supreme Court becomes the talk of the town.

The RSS do-gooder

“Why didn’t he leave me in my youth? Why now? He gave me triple talaq not once, but twice,” Yasmeen told ThePrint, bursting into tears as she sat listlessly in the drawing room of a two floor kothi in the Civil Lines area of Aligarh city. “He wouldn’t buy a single property in my name…even this house is in his name. I have nothing.”

Aamir Rasheed, the president of the Muslim Youth Wing of the RSS in Aligarh, is close by to comfort the 53-year-old woman. “Now, don’t cry…hum hain na aapke saath,” he tells her. He has been with Yasmeen like a shadow since she made headlines. He is the only reason she is alive today, Yasmeen says as she wipes her tears. “He’s more than a son to me.”

Rasheed, 26 and a civil engineer, has been associated with the Sangh for over three years now, and was introduced to Yasmeen by the DIG of Police over a month ago. He wears a saffron kurta and moves about the city on his bike, is one of the most prominent Muslim faces of the Sangh in Aligarh, and says that Delhi-based RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha helped throw the spotlight on this case.

Rasheed claims to have an impressive resume: he raised the issue of Hindu students not being served food during the month of Ramzan in AMU and local reporters say he is also seeking to compile cases of discrimination, harassment, etc., in AMU to refer them to the human resource development ministry in Delhi.

Ladies from Muslim community celebrate after the Supreme Court banned triple talaq.
Ladies from Muslim community celebrate after the Supreme Court banned triple talaq.| Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Politically connected wife

Khalid Khan, 57, who has so far categorically denied giving triple talaq, does not doubt for a second that there are political forces behind the trouble in his marriage and it making national headlines.

“She has always been politically connected. Earlier, she was with the Congress and then served as the president of the women’s wing of the Samajwadi Party, he said. Now, she has a future ready in the BJP, says Khalid, who has been slapped with four FIRs.

While Yasmeen has maintained that Khalid has indeed given her triple talaq twice verbally, Khalid says there is no evidence of what he calls her fictitious claims. But he admits that he gave her talaq once on WhatsApp and then through a text message after a month, as stipulated by the Shariah. The third talaq has not been given yet and so Yasmeen continues to be his wife, he maintains.

Both the estranged husband and wife rue that nobody from the Muslim community stood up for them. “They hold it against me that I spoke up,” says Yasmeen. “But what else could I have done? Now at least the media knows what he (Khalid) is,” she says.

Domestic violence, say police

Khalid, says he has served Hindus all his life through his academic contributions to Sanskrit or what he calls “ved ki seva”, and yet, he is being portrayed as the face of regressive Islam.

“The BJP and Sangh keep talking of mainstreaming Muslims. I had fought with my entire family to study Sanskrit, shouldn’t I have been embraced with open arms?” he says. “The mullah samaj despises me for teaching Sanskrit. My daughters sing bhajans…that is why the Muslim clerics are not standing up for me.”

The couple’s daughters – Ila and Ibra – who had together been semi-finalists in the reality show ‘India’s Got Talent’, now live apart with separate parents, who communicate with each other through the national media, lawyers and activists after more than two decades of living together.

Police said they are not looking at this as an instant triple talaq case even though the FIR filed by Yasmeen mentions it. “We are looking at it as a case of domestic violence, and aren’t concerned with triple talaq,” said Senior Superintendent of Police Rajesh Kumar Pandey. “We’ll start our investigation soon, and if we find evidence (against Khalid), we’ll file the chargesheet.”

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