Around 10 days ago, a Hindu woman in Uttar Pradesh filed a police case against a Muslim man, accusing him of forcing her to convert to Islam despite marrying her in an Arya Samaj temple, and then cheating her by marrying another woman.
The woman, 35-year-old Pratibha Soni, is seven months pregnant. The police have arrested Faheem on several charges including harassment and criminal intimidation.
The official Twitter account of Sultanpur Police about the arrest on 29 November.
Pratibha’s statement recorded in the first information report (FIR) says she was in a relationship with Faheem for 10 years. He kept making sexual relations with her, promising her marriage.
In this period, Pratibha got pregnant several times. Each time, Faheem would get her pregnancy aborted, saying he could not marry her before marrying off his sisters.
The statement further says that the two eventually got married in 2018 in an Arya Samaj temple. However, she did not shift with his family as is the norm, but continued to live alone, with Faheem visiting her frequently.
A year after her marriage, Pratibha got pregnant again. This time too, Faheem gave her certain ‘medicines’ that forced her miscarriage.
Pratibha got pregnant again this year. Faheem now began forcing her to accept Islam as a condition for accepting the child as his own. When she refused, he stopped meeting her or receiving her calls. When Pratibha went to his house last month, she discovered that Faheem had married a woman from his community, the statement says.
The FIR (number 1082/2021) filed at City Kotwali police station in Sultanpur on 27 November, names Faheem as a suspect under IPC sections 498A (harassment of woman subjecting her to cruelty), 313 (causing marriage without women’s consent), 494 (marrying after having a husband or wife) and 506 (criminal intimidation).
Pratibha shared with Swarajya a marriage certificate issued to her by an “Arya Samaj mandir” dated 20 March, 2018. The certificate shows the temple’s address as Sector H of Harsh Vihar in Lucknow district’s Aliganj area.
It mentions Faheem Qureshi’s name after ‘conversion’ as Raj Arya, and his age as 34.
Pratibha’s age is mentioned as 35. The addresses of both Faheem and Pratibha, though different, are from UP’s Sultanpur district, which is around 150 kilometres from state capital Lucknow.
When this correspondent called up a mobile number mentioned on the certificate, one Santosh Mishra answered the call. He said that this branch of Arya Samaj mandir is indeed registered with the Arya Samaj Trust and bears the registration number 672/1162.
When requested if Mishra could share with this correspondent an affidavit signed by Faheem Qureshi for his conversion prior to the ‘marriage’, he promised he would, but would need a couple of days. (This correspondent will update this report when the information is received).
Pratibha narrated her story over the phone: A native of Sultanpur, she got married to a man from her Sunar jaati in an arranged marriage in 2002. She was a year short of becoming major (18 years of age) at that time, and had recently completed her Class XII. Her husband’s family lived in Jaunpur district.
She gave birth to three children — all sons — before her husband died in an accident five years after the marriage.
Pratibha shifted to her parents’ house in Sultanpur. She resumed her studies. She went on to pursue Bachelors in Commerce, followed by a Masters in Commerce and a vocational diploma in computers.
While studying, she learnt tailoring from her mother. She would earn a modest income through tailoring. After her studies, she got a job at a private college in Jaunpur and shifted there.
During her college in Sultanpur, Pratibha met Rajesh. The two became friends. As Pratibha became independent after her job, the two got closer and entered into a relationship. Rajesh began to visit her in Jaunpur.
Pratibha says she came in contact with Rajesh through a common woman friend, who was a Muslim. The two got along well as she found Rajesh to be “open-minded”.
“Probably because he had worked and lived in Mumbai, he was quite open-minded. He was okay with being in relationship with a single woman with children,” she says.
Soon, she learnt that Rajesh was Faheem Qureshi. She says she learnt it from a friend of Faheem.
“I would often ask him to formally marry me as he was coming to stay with me frequently. Every time, he said he needed time as he had sisters to marry,” says Pratibha. “I approached one of his friends to try convince Rajesh for the marriage. The friend revealed that he is not Rajesh but Faheem Qureshi.”
Pratibha says when she confronted Faheem, he told her to not make much of it as “Muslims often need to change their name for getting employment”. Pratibha left it at that.
After a botched pregnancy in 2017, Pratibha severed tied with him. Faheem approached her after a few weeks, this time with a marriage proposal. “He said he wanted to live with me and spent the rest of his life with me. I accepted his offer,” she says.
By then, the couple had been together for more than seven years. Pratibha shifted to Sultanpur to be close to him. There, she rented a place for her and Faheem to live. He introduced her to his family.
When the subject of wedding formalities came up, Faheem suggested they should marry in a Hindu temple “because of Yogi sarkar”.
“He told me that Yogi sarkar is going after Muslim men marrying Hindu women, so it was best for both of us to marry in a temple as Hindus,” says Pratibha. She was happy with the proposal.
“What more could I ask for? My man was ready to change his religion for me. I know that the decision of changing one’s religion is a big thing,” she says.
Pratibha says if Faheem had insisted on her conversion and nikah, she would have agreed to that as well.
Pratibha says her parents did not approve of her decision, but she went ahead. She wanted a man in her life.
With help of some “Hindu activists”, Pratibha and Faheem married in an Arya Samaj temple in Lucknow. “There were a few rituals. Then we signed on some pieces of papers,” she says.
Pratibha says a local leader associated with Hindu Yuva Vahini, who helped with the formalities, congratulated her for making a Muslim man convert to Hindu faith. “The man said I had managed a rare feat. He even offered to help me with money. I turned down the offer, saying I had enough,” she says.
After the temple ceremony and paperwork, Pratibha’s brother-in-law who works at a newspaper advertisement agency, offered to get Faheem’s name change declaration published in a newspaper for free, she says. “But Faheem said no. He said he had converted for marriage’s sake and did not want to change his name in any of his documents.”
Pratibha adds, “Faheem anyway has an additional Aadhaar card made in the name of Rajesh. I have seen it.”
When this correspondent told her it is a serious matter and she must tell the police about it, Pratibha said she would.
Pratibha says that much to her disappointment, Faheem did not take her to his house. She continued to live in the rented accommodation in Sultanpur, paying the rent herself. Faheem visited her frequently and, at times, stayed with her for days at a stretch.
Things became bad when she got pregnant in 2019 and Faheem forced her miscarriage, yet again.
They turned for the worse when she discovered earlier this year that she was again pregnant.
“I was diagnosed with a disease and was told to go for a blood test. The doctor revealed that I was pregnant. The doctor said that given my illness, it was advisable that I don’t abort the pregnancy. When I told Faheem about it, he reluctantly agreed to keep the baby,” she says. His sisters were still unmarried.
She says that after three months of her pregnancy, she noticed a stark change in Faheem’s behaviour. He began putting pressure on her to convert to Islam and have a nikah ceremony.
“I found that demand strange. I was already upset with him as he was hardly visiting me anymore. He had not made me meet his family after the marriage at all. Even his family did not contact me even once after the marriage,” she says.
The couple began to have fights about it. Faheem told her that his family had refused to accept his conversion to Hindu faith or his marriage in the temple. They demanded a nikah.
“Ma’am, I would have agreed to the nikah as well had it not been for the fact that I was increasingly feeling like I was being cheated. It slowly dawned on me that all this man had done to me was use me for sexual pleasure and money.”
Pratibha says Faheem did not have a regular income or occupation. In fact, for a long time, he did not tell her what he did for a living. “He would always turn the conversation to some other subject whenever I asked him. Since I was self-reliant, I did not really care. I would even help him with money every now and then,” she says.
Pratibha says that during a visit to a dargah two years before their marriage, she demanded the answer. Faheem told her he sold smack [drugs].
“I was stunned. I told him he needed to stop that right away if he wanted to continue with me. I told him the last thing I wanted in my life was police turning up at my house for interrogation. I asked him what else he could do for a living. He said that all that he knew was how to chop meat,” she says.
Pratibha says she gave him Rs 50,000 to open a meat shop.
Faheem never pressured her to cook or eat meat at her house, she says. Pratibha is a vegetarian.
When two more months passed of her pregnancy amid frequent spats, Faheem angrily told her the child that Pratibha was carrying, was not his.
“He asked me what proof I had that the child was his. I was furious. I told him I could get him jailed for rape and a DNA test would easily prove tit. He said he did not fear rape charges,” she says.
More weeks passed, and Faheem reduced his visits and phone calls to zero. His phone would be constantly switched off.
Even at her advanced pregnancy in October, Pratibha decided to confront him at his parents’ house. She reached there, all alone, only to discover that the family had moved out. Neighbours said they had shifted to another location within Sultanpur. Much to her shock, she found that the family had been living in a rented accommodation all along.
With his neighbours’ help, she learnt about Faheem’s new address — behind Khajuri Masjid in Lala ka Purwa area. As she neared the place and asked for directions from residents, they asked her who she was. She told them she was Faheem’s wife.
Residents told her it was not possible as Faheem had married a girl from the colony only a few weeks ago. It was a low-key event, they informed her.
Holding her belly and dragging her shaking legs, Pratibha reached Faheem’s house. She saw the newly-wed bride.
Pratibha says she began crying profusely and called up the police. She collapsed on the floor and regained consciousness only in the police van, she says.
“I never expected he would do this to me. I had done so much for him. I had supported him with money. Even his sisters and mother wore the clothes I bought for them. They would even wear what I discarded. This is how the whole family repaid me,” she says.
The day was 29 October. Pratibha gave a complaint to the police the same day. The police called Faheem and male members of his family — his father Sultan Qureshi and brother Farukh Qureshi — to the station for questioning. She says a “settlement” was made.
Pratibha declined to share details of the settlement, but said that Faheem agreed to live with her. He did move in with her the next day. A few weeks later, he again went “missing”.
Pratibha went to the police station again. An FIR was subsequently registered.
When Swarajya called City Kotwali police station of Sultanpur, Ram Ashish Upadhyay who introduced himself as chowki in-charge said that the case was being handled by sub-inspector Praveen Mishra.
Investigating Officer Mishra told Swarajya that the accused is in judicial custody and has been denying all charges made against him. The officer said that Faheem has told police that he called off the relationship after he found out “later in the relationship” that Pratibha had three grown-up children.
The officer said that the investigation is on and it was too early to make any official statement. Asked why the police did not file an FIR on 29 October itself, he said that both parties had agreed to a compromise and thus, there was no case.
On 7 December when this correspondent spoke to Pratibha over the phone again, she said that she was on her way to the police station to hand them the marriage certificate issued by the Arya Samaj. “I have been asking them to add provisions of the anti-forced conversion act in my case. They asked me to bring the documents,” she said.
Pratibha says that with two months left for her child to be born, she has found that she was being cheated for the past 10 years. Asked if she is ready for an out-of-court settlement, she said the case was beyond her opinion now. “There are two women involved now. The child in my womb needs justice. Faheem’s second wife needs justice too. I can tell you for sure that I will make his family sell everything they possess to provide for the baby,” she said determinedly.
Pratibha has shifted to Jaunpur since the police case, where she owns a house bought from her savings.
(This story was first published on Swarajya here.)