Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh: A couple of hours before dawn on 24 November, 19-year-old Nitu Shukla, a Hindu woman from Sitapur’s Makhu Beher village, laid down pillows on her bed and covered them with a quilt to create an impression of her being in bed. Then she packed her family’s “entire savings” — Rs 2 lakh, a pair of gold earrings, and a neckpiece — and some clothes, and left the house with her Muslim boyfriend.
An hour later, her mother Rekha woke up and called out to Nitu for help with the daily chores — only to notice that she was missing.
After attempts to trace her failed, Nitu’s father made a complaint at Tambaur police station stating that his daughter has eloped with “some boy” she used to speak over phone daily. The family didn’t know until then that the “boy” was Muslim.
Following the complaint, a case of “kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel her for marriage”, was registered against an “unknown” person.
A couple of days later, the story took a turn when the woman’s family found out that the man she had eloped with was Jibrail, a 29-year-old Muslim who frequented the house to help out with odd jobs and lived barely 100 metres from their house.
As soon as the police was informed about the involvement of a Muslim man in the case, sections of criminal conspiracy under the new illegal conversion law were invoked against him and his entire family on 30 November.
Now, while the couple is ‘on the run’, 13 members of Jibrail’s family, including his widowed mother, uncles, aunts and cousins, are in jail for “hatching a conspiracy” to help him elope with a Hindu woman with the “common intention” of “forcefully converting her to Islam”.
A proclaimed offender
After finding out that Jibrail was missing from his home, and a few villagers confirmed about his relationship with Nitu, there was panic followed by a “rigorous investigation” by more than 10 policemen to track down the couple.
Six police teams and two SWAT teams spread out across Lucknow, Badaun and Lakhimpur Khedi, and even went to the Nepal border to trace the couple.
Amid the arrest of 13 of Jibrail’s family members, searches were conducted at the houses of his friends and relatives. Wireless messages were sent across districts at all toll plazas and police booths, and checks were conducted at nakas, but to no avail.
On 7 December, a non-bailable warrant was issued against Jibrail and he was declared an “absconder”.
“It instantly became a case of ‘love jihad’. Had she gone with a Hindu man, we would just write a complaint, try to look for her. This, however, has become serious since she went with a Muslim,” a senior police officer at Tambaur told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
“After an NBW was issued in his name, we took out advertisements in newspapers, local radio channels and even got announcements made through loudspeakers in villages, asking him to come out from wherever he was hiding,” the officer said.
Jibrail has now been given 30 days to surrender and appear before the court, under Section 82 of the CrPC (proclamation for person absconding). In case he does not appear in the court before 18 January, he will be declared a proclaimed offender and all his property — movable and immovable — will be seized and attached by the police under Section 83 of the CrPC (attachment of Property of person absconding).
The police also carried out a munaadi, wherein a person beats drums and goes from village to village to warn the people who may be helping the couple, and convey to them that he may surrender at the earliest.
‘We are Brahmins, we will never accept this relationship’
Rekha Shukla, Nitu’s mother, is dejected. She knows her daughter went with Jibrail willingly, but is finding it hard to accept.
“The night before she had dinner with me and told me that she would do the utensils the next day. When I woke up in the morning around 4.30, I saw her lying down on the cot. I thought she was sleeping with her face covered. When she did not wake up till 6 am, I removed the quilt to wake her up and found pillows under it. I was shocked,” she said.
“I still thought that she may have gone to relieve herself. But realised soon that she had eloped. I ran to tell Nitu’s father and also gathered people around. Everyone started looking for her,” she added.
Later, Rekha found that Nitu also took her jewellery and cash. “We looked for her all day but did not find her. She took her clothes, my jewellery and all my life savings,” she said.
Now, Rekha wants Jibrail punished. “I feel cheated. She tricked us. Why would she do that? That man who took her must be arrested and put behind bars. We are Brahmins and will never accept this relationship. The police are working hard to trace her down,” Rekha said.
‘They took everyone’
Jibrail’s house, a stone’s throw away from Nitu’s, is in a poor condition. The lock is broken and the utensils are scattered, some even cracked. It gives a sense that his relatives resisted arrest.
“They (the police) took everyone. All his uncles, mother, aunts, cousins,” a neighbour said. “He left with the girl and his widowed mother is now suffering.”
On the night the couple planned to elope, Jibrail’s neighbours told ThePrint, there was a wedding feast in a nearby village and everyone had gone there, so no one saw them leave.
“Most villagers were at the feast. We were all staying for the night. We got to know of this elopement only when we returned. It is possible they took advantage of the entire village being at the wedding and eloped. Or else someone must have seen and stopped them,” the neighbour said.
‘Muslim family wanted to convert Hindu woman, kill her’
While the woman’s family believes she left willingly, the police said they suspect she was “abducted” by Jibrail with an intention to “convert her” and then “kill her”.
“His entire family was with him in this. He had been planning this for over six years and that is why we have arrested his entire family,” the police officer quoted above said.
According to the officer, Jibrail often “stalked” the woman and visited her house on one pretext or the other, with an intention to “woo” her.
“He had been after her for the last six years. He conspired to abduct the girl, along with his family. While he executed the plan, his family arranged for logistics. Our investigation shows that he wanted to take her, change her religion. We also suspect that he had a plan to execute her,” the officer said.
The police even put Jibrail’s phone on surveillance but found out that he had sold his phone for Rs 3,000, just two days before he eloped.
Call detail records of whoever Jibrail spoke to were also accessed by the police and raids were conducted at all places he could probably have gone to.
“We took out a list of people he was in touch with in the last few months and raided all those places. We also found out that he had a plan to go to Ludhiana on 30 November. Our team went there, but did not find him,” the officer said.
The police has also accessed some WhatsApp chats of Jibrail with one of his cousin’s in which he talks about his “love for Nitu”. It also claimed that Jibrail’s family members have confessed their “involvement” in this elopement.
“He was trying to entice her and we have proof about that in WhatsApp chats between Jibrail and his cousin. Moreover, one of his uncles and cousins who have been arrested have accepted that they helped Jibrail. They arranged a stay for the couple the night after they eloped. The two also stayed in one of their houses for the second night and gave them some money,” he said.
All this, the officer said, shows “common conspiracy of the family to trap the Hindu girl and convert her”.
“We have been working day and night to solve this case. We really hope that he returns and surrenders, if not for himself, for his family. We have put all the pressure we could,” the officer said.