The metal rods in the jail taunted her, yelled abuses. They were in tandem with the noise pollution around her. Women were weeping or screaming while many were cursing. And a few sat in blessed silence. In their own cocoon, their own shell.
Aprajita sat on the ratty, foul-smelling mattress. Her under-trial status guaranteed her, a choice of attire. The only choice she could exercise, as her rights lay stripped. As bare as the imprisoning cell.
How is Hasham coping in the jail? Aprajita wondered. I hope he has had something to eat.
She mopped her sweaty forehead with the corner of her dupatta. Biding time before she could meet her lawyer. It felt inconceivable she was in prison. Not yet, incarcerated, of course. But with her luck, that day was not too far either.
Her ruminations were interrupted by the guards. They informed her, Kalaratri was waiting for her in the dingy consulting room.
“The judge has not decided on your case, Aprajita,” said Kalaratri.
“How about Hasham’s case?”
“He is not my client, so his lawyer would know.”
“Okay. Can I go to Hasham’s house when it’s done?”
Kalaratri’s heart broke as she watched Aprajita’s face light up at the prospect of meeting her husband, Hasham. Aprajita’s didn’t understand the gravity of her precarious predicament, her legal troubles. She knew she had done nothing wrong, and in her naive thinking, it would resolve itself. Have a happy ending. But, Kalaratri knew happy endings were a myth.
Aprajita, twenty-one years of age, had eloped and married her lover against her parent’s wishes. Following the proper procedure, under the Special Marriage Act, their marriage was legal. But, the ‘Love Jihad’ law had eroded all semblance of law and order. It had turned a legit marriage into a hunt, and the couple, its prey. Aprajita had no qualms in converting to Islam to marry Hasham. Why was the police involved was her question!
Kalaratri knew the law, disguised to protect women, truly intended to propel the ‘Ghar Wapsi’. The ‘protection’ involved throwing the woman in jail, and if convicted incarcerated for ten years.
She gazed into the kohl-eyed Aprajita’s face. Innocence and trust were featured.
“Aprajita, if –IF you are released, your marriage will have to register with the district magistrate. Only then can you move in with Hasham. Until then, you need to return to your parents.”
“But, they don’t want me in their lives! They have cursed me my whole life that I am a dowry burden. They can’t wait to get rid of me, to pass the responsibility to someone else. So, I relieved them of the trouble. No need for any dowry! I rejected the 45 years-old-widower chosen for me to opt for Hasham, who is closer to my age.”
Kalaratri massaged her glabella where a monstrous headache had taken shelter.
“While you may have been a burden on your parents, they felt responsible for finding an appropriate groom for you. And to eke out a dowry. You have broken the chain of command, and to add fuel to the fire, you chose a man of a different religion.”
“But they wanted to get rid of me!”
“Yes, to a man of the same faith.”
Kalaratri tried to explain the law to her, stating it was illegal to convert to get married.
“The judge has released his verdict. They want you in court,” said the guard, breaking the flow.
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