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Christian Weds Despite Hindu Protests

Compass Direct News (1/15/07) – An Indian couple whose marriage was postponed three times due to protests from a Hindu extremist group finally married last Thursday (January 11) in Jabalpur.

Peter Abraham, 38, and Meena Gond, 36, first applied for permission to marry at the Jabalpur district marriage office in October 2006. The Special Marriages Act requires the office to invite objections after a couple applies to register a marriage. Objections must be filed during a mandatory 40-day notice period.

When the 40 days had expired last November, Jabalpur marriage officer Deepak Singh refused to register the marriage, saying he had received objections from a member of the Hindu extremist group Dharma Sena.

“Peter is a Christian – we suspect he has lured this innocent tribal girl by offering her money,” Sudhir Aggarwal, Dharma Sena convener in the Mahakaushal region told local reporters. “Meena will later be forced to change her religion.”

Gond is an animist. The couple met through relatives and developed a liking for each other that superseded their religious differences.

Ceremony Postponed

The marriage registrar asked Abraham and Gond to appear before him on December 20. To the couple’s dismay, however, the office then postponed the wedding ceremony as investigations into Aggarwal’s complaint were still underway.

A second date was set for January 4. On that day, however, a mob of about 65 to 70 Dharma Sena members waving saffron flags surrounded the registrar’s office.

“In spite of the bride being physically crippled from polio, the couple had to flee from the mob,” a local source said.

Singh, the marriage officer, denied any miscarriage of justice.

“Since I received two objections, we had to investigate the matter,” he told Compass. “On January 8, once the complaints were found to be baseless, we gave the couple permission to marry. They fixed their date for January 11, and after recording their statements, the marriage certificate was issued.”

Singh also denied any involvement of the Dharma Sena in the repeated postponement of the marriage.

Baseless Accusations

Gond’s brother, Radhey Gond, strongly objected to Aggarwal’s charge of Christian missionaries encouraging people such as Abraham to convert poor tribal people.

“Abraham has been a daily wage earner for years. How can a poor rickshaw-puller bribe a woman if he has no money?” he said.

He said he was touched by Abraham’s decision to marry his sister. “She can barely walk,” Gond said. “We had all along thought that nobody would marry her.”

John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, told Compass that Aggarwal and others had no legal grounds for their complaint. “They are in fact committing a crime by physically, socially or psychologically injuring any partner by way of assault, boycott or social marginalization,” he said.

Indira Iyenger, president of the joint Madhya Pradesh-Chattisgarh Christian Forum, agreed. “This is another attempt of Hindu extremists to harass the Christian community,” she told Compass. “Abraham and Gond are consenting adults, and it is their fundamental right to marry.”

Marriage Incentives

Moreover, Iyenger added, if anyone could be accused of offering financial inducements, it was the Madhya Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party government, which has offered a cash incentive of 50,000 rupees (US$2,209) to any non-tribal person who would marry someone from a tribal background.

Tribal Welfare Commissioner K.K. Singh admitted that the state had offered this incentive but said he was “not sure” if it applied to Christians and Muslims.

“The broad objective of the scheme is to end social discrimination and untouchability among Hindu castes,” Singh argued. “How can religions that do not have untouchability be eligible for this incentive?”

Jabalpur Congress Party chief Naresh Saraf, however, told the Telegraph that the scheme’s provisions made no reference to religion.