It’s becoming an international phenomenon.
Last week, body of a woman was found hanging at her husband’s house in Kotma city of Anuppur district in Madhya Pradesh. Poonam Singh had left her first husband, Umesh, to marry his friend Mohammad Istaak alias Katanni in December 2021.
Her decision was not accepted by her family, who cut off all ties with her. After her death, however, they are accusing Istaak of murdering her and of ‘love jihad’.
This correspondent visited Poonam’s parents this week, to find out the developments that led to her second marriage and her eventual death. Below is an account of the parents’ struggle in pursuing a legal case against Istaak and their version of the interfaith affair….
Poonam’s father Santosh is sitting in the verandah on a plastic chair. A wooden bed without a mattress is placed near him, and a cage carrying two birds is hung nearby. Raj comes with a glass of water. Santosh explains that his wife Kalawati has gone to a temple, along with Poonam’s son Rudra, for a Shiva Abhishek ritual.
This correspondent asked them if that was not unusual for a family that had lost a member, given that Hindus in the area do not indulge in any religious activity for at least 13 days after a death.
Santosh said the family had considered Poonam dead in December itself.
“After she left her home with that Muslim man, she was dead for us. We disassociated from her. How could we not? We are Gonds, we stay attached to our culture. We are Hindus, but she went on to become Mohammedan,” he says.
Santosh continues, “That Katanni and his family buried her after her death. They did not let us perform any of our customs. So how can you say we lost a family member?”.
Raj does not speak. Santosh goes on to say that Poonam faced consequences of her actions and ignored all his warnings and pleas.
Asked to narrate her story, Santosh sighs but agrees.
In 2017, when Poonam had just turned 18, he fixed her marriage to a man named Umesh from within their Gond jaati. She went on to give birth to two children. The elder, Rudra, is now four while the younger, Saadhna, is one year old.
Santosh describes her marriage with Umesh as a “happy” one.
On 9 May 2020, he received a call from his son-in-law Umesh that Poonam had left his house after a quarrel and was untraceable.
She was found with Umesh’s friend Istaak the same night. Santosh says her hands and feet were tied.
Poonam filed a police case against Istaak the next day, accusing him of abduction and rape, and he was arrested and jailed….
The statement of Poonam recorded in the FIR says that on 9 May 2020, she and her husband Umesh had a small fight, so around 8.30 in the night, she left the house to go to her parents’ home.
On her way, she borrowed a person’s mobile phone and called up “Katanni Mussalman”, asking him to drop her at her parents’ home. He reached the spot on a bike and they both headed towards her house. On the way, he stopped his bike in front of an empty quarter (room) near Govinda colony.
He took her inside and tied her hands and legs with a rope. He raped her that night. Around midnight, her mother-in-law Kaushalya Bai, her mother Kalawati, her father Santosh and her husband Umesh reached the quarter and found her. They opened the rope and brought her home.
They held Katanni and tied him with the same rope, and began taking him to the police station. However, he escaped on the way. He left his mobile phone with the family. They gave the mobile phone to the police as evidence of the crime.
The statement further says that Katanni had raped her several times at her house on gunpoint, threatening her to kill her husband and children if she told anyone. So Poonam did not tell anyone in her family about Katanni.
At the time of the crime, she was five months pregnant and Katanni knew that.
Poonam’s statement concludes with her appealing for strict action against Katanni….