Mehvish Hakim, 24, fights back tears as she watches her two small children, Mantasha and Zoya Hakim, playing on the floor. She still can’t believe she’ll never see them running to her husband, their hands aloft, waiting to be picked up and cuddled. She’ll never hear Abdul Hakim’s voice again.
That’s because her husband was the alleged victim of an ‘honour killing’. His crime: he and Mehvish were in love and married without her parents’ consent.
“My family killed my husband,’’ she claims. “They would not let us live in peace and now they’ve taken revenge. I will never forgive them. My children will never have a father because of them; they disgust me.’’
Abdul was shot dead on November 22 last year. He was on his way back from a pharmacy where he’d gone to buy medicine to help Mehvish with a headache.
Five men – including, according to some Indian media reports, members of Mehvish’s family – are now in a prison in Lucknow, northern India, awaiting trial.
His death at the age of 28 was just five months after the couple appeared on Aamir Khan’s popular TV show Satyamev Jayate (Truth will triumph) claiming there was a threat to their lives because they had married without her parents’ approval.
The local police deny this, saying personal enmity was the reason behind the killing. “The girl’s family had come to accept the marriage. Nothing indicates this murder is linked to the couple’s marriage,” a spokesperson said.
But Mehvish refuses to believe this. The man she’d fallen in love with while in school and married in 2009 would have been saved if the police had offered him protection, she claims.
A forbidden love
Coming from an affluent upper-caste family in Adoli village, Maharashtra, central India, Mehvish was Abdul’s neighbour. But her family always looked down on Abdul’s because they were of a different social standing and so had nothing to do with them.
“He was a nice boy, different from others in every way,’’ says Mehvish. “I first met him when I was 11 at school. Even at that time I remember we used to enjoy each other’s company. A few years later, we expressed our feelings to each other. It was true love.’’
The pair met in secret frequently. Both were aware of the class divide but thought their families would forget that when they saw how happy they were.
Mehvish was 14 when her family found out about their relationship through neighbours who’d seen the couple talking. They promptly took her out of school, while Abdul’s parents, fearing threats from the village elders, sent him to pursue a computer course in town.
Now that they did not have a chance to meet, they planned other ways to keep their love alive. “We maintained our relationship quietly without meeting each other,” Mehvish explains. “We didn’t have mobile phones at the time so we used to exchange letters. I used to put a letter under a brick in a wall near our homes and the next day he would put his letter there. It continued for four to five years.’’
Marriage at any cost
Mehvish knew she had fallen in love and decided she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Abdul. He too was determined to marry her at any cost. So in the summer of 2009 the couple decided to elope.
While visiting her grandmother in Delhi, Mehvish slipped off, secretly met with Abdul and married in Meerut, a nearby city, aged 20. “I was so happy. I’d dreamt of this moment for so long. I knew I always wanted to be his wife,” she says. “I felt nothing could come between us now. We were safe as man and wife and I truly believed one day my family would accept us.’’
But when she returned home she kept her marriage a secret. Since they couldn’t afford a ring, she didn’t have to worry about hiding it and carried on as normal, waiting for the right time to announce their news.
Her parents, however, had other plans. “They began looking for a groom for me,’’ she says. They arranged for Mehvish to marry one of her cousins in November 2010.
“I was terrified. I kept overhearing them planning my life, all the while I knew I was already a wife to my true love. I kept sending letters to Abdul and we wondered what to do.’’
On the run
Just 11 days before her arranged marriage, Mehvish ran away with Abdul. “We were scared we’d be caught so we travelled around India, by train and bus hiding in friends’ houses in places such as Aligarh, Meerut and Mumbai,’’ she says.
Back in the village, her incensed family filed a kidnapping case against Abdul and reportedly targeted his family through the traditional village council – a group of elders who enforce traditions and customs in their community. If anyone fails to adhere to their rules they impose strict punishments.
Members of Abdul’s family were asked to leave the village, alleges Mehvish. But Abdul’s father, Abdul Hafiz, 76, refused to move. A few weeks later he was found dead, hanged from a tree. “The police said it was suicide,’’ she says. “I don’t believe that.’’
Fearing for their lives, Abdul and Mehvish took refuge at the Love Commandos, a New Delhi-based organisation protecting couples on the run from their families. The organisation provides shelter, legal and financial help and physical protection to couples. (Read our previous feature on the organisation in our June 7 issue http://bit.ly/14jKrpn)
“I was devastated it had come to this,” Mehvish says. “I wanted to live a happy life with my husband. I was so upset. I had never expected my family to behave in such a way.
“Once we contacted the Love Commandos they gave us accommodation for six months and put us in touch with some charities. The volunteers also tried to arrange police security for us if we wanted to go back to our village.’’
The Love Commandos also helped the couple appear on Aamir Khan’s TV show, on which Abdul announced that he feared he would be killed because of the marriage.
Abdul started working as a rickshaw driver in Delhi, earning around Rs6,000 (Dh370) a month. They rented a house in Delhi, and in August 2011, Mehvish gave birth to their first child, a girl Mantasha Hakim.
“We were very happy,” she says. “We forgot all our miseries. We even hoped my family might have a change of heart now we had a child. I used to call my mother to try to convince her to accept our marriage but she’d always threaten me,” Mehvish claims.
Meanwhile, the Love Commandos held discussions with the police and other authorities and managed to get the kidnapping charges against Abdul dropped. That meant they could return to their village.
“We didn’t believe we were at risk going back,” says Mehvish. “We thought the police were on our side so we were protected. We really believed that slowly, as we lived close to our families, they’d come round.’’
In August 2012 Mehvish became pregnant for the second time. Too poor to provide the safety of secure accommodation, she went to stay with Abdul’s family, who had moved to the nearby village of Bhatgarhi, until the baby was born.
“We were still terrified of my family hurting him, so Abdul used to sneak into the house at night. It was no life, it was like a prison but his safety was more important.’’
Shot down in cold blood
Mehvish remembers the day Abdul died clearly. “I had a severe headache and he decided to go out and buy the medicine,” she says. On his way back from the pharmacy he was ambushed by a five-man gang, which Mehvish claims included members of her family.
A neighbour’s child ran to tell Mehvish what was happening. “I screamed and rushed to the place as fast as I could,’’ she says. Seeing her approach, the attackers began to flee. But not before Abdul was shot in the neck.
“It’s an horrendous memory. I hugged him and placed his head in my lap. Tears filled my eyes. He didn’t move; I just held him.
“He always used to tell me he would die for me and in the end he actually did.’’
Three days later five men were arrested. Mehvish was nine months pregnant. “I have no idea how I coped. I went into autopilot.”
Mehvish now wants to build a memorial for her husband in her village. “I want to keep his memory alive for those who hated him and killed him, and for those who admire him for having courage,’’ she says.
She now lives with her in-laws and her two children under police protection.
“It breaks my heart that Abdul never got to hold our second child,” she says. “I’m thankful I have his children. Every time I look at them I see their father. They are the proof of our love.’’