By Rekha Dixit
On her own terms: Sakshi Mishra eloped from her politician father’s home in UP, to marry her sweetheart.On her own terms: Sakshi Mishra eloped from her politician father’s home in UP, to marry her sweetheart.
ON HER TWITTER bio, she describes herself as manmarzi girl (self-willed). Sakshi Mishra, 24, who eloped from her politician father’s home in Bareilly in July to marry her sweetheart, Ajitesh Kumar Nayak, 29, a boy from the Banjara (nomadic) community, has needed oodles of her manmarzi to see her through since.
The svelte small-town girl hogged national headlines in July when she released a video on social media. It was a desperate appeal addressed to her father and older brother, Vicky, to keep their goons away from the runaway couple. “I have got married, and I have been running from one town to another to escape these goons,” she says. “Papa, apni soch badlo [Change your mindset, papa]. My husband and his family are humans, not animals…. You do your politics, leave us in peace.” She specially named one Rajiv Rana as her father’s henchman.
A few days later, on July 15, the couple landed up in Allahabad High Court, seeking police protection. There, they were attacked, though that event remains ambiguous. Were the attackers her father’s goons dressed as advocates? Or, was the attack by people who were against a lower caste boy marrying an upper caste girl? Whatever be the case, the court was convinced that the couple and their lawyer needed protection, and that their marriage was valid. They were whisked out through the back gate of the court and have been in hiding ever since. Even her father had to subsequently assure the court that there would be no threat from him.
“This is not the life I wanted. I wanted my family to respect my choices, to accord my husband and me the blessings that a newly married couple is given. Was that too much to hope for?” asks Sakshi. As she opens up to me, I discover a girl who dreams of freedom and the chance to make her dreams come true, which an upbringing in a traditional small-town north Indian family had restricted. A girl who resisted double standards—her brother could have girlfriends, she wasn’t allowed to have boyfriends.
Sakshi’s father is a self-made man, who hails from a rural background. He represents the Bithri Chainpur legislative constituency in Bareilly district. The family lives in Bareilly town. Ajitesh’s uncle lives in the same locality and Ajitesh was a regular visitor, who soon befriended her brother, Vicky. Sakshi was a schoolgirl then, but as she grew up, a secret romance began blossoming between the two. The romance continued even when she went to Jaipur to do an undergraduate course in mass media. In fact, it became more intense over time, and this May, her flatmate, after a quarrel with her, allegedly sent a picture of Sakshi and Ajitesh to her brother. “He called up Ajitesh and abused him,” says Sakshi. Her course was over, and her parents then came and took her home. “I was not allowed to do an internship with Dainik Bhaskar, neither did they show any encouragement when I wanted to enrol for a post-graduation at a Noida-based institute, though I kept telling them the deadline was approaching.”
Sakshi believes her family was planning a quick marriage for her, with someone from her own caste. Her parents left for Lucknow by car, saying it was for her mother’s treatment. Then suddenly, Vicky was called to Delhi to attend to a relative undergoing chemotherapy. Sakshi saw her chance and on July 3, she bolted. “I had to escape,” she says. “I know my family.” She took her laptop and her documents, says her father. She also took a whole lot of clothes, says a grinning Ajitesh; he was rather surprised at the amount of luggage. “We are on the run,” he protested, but gamely took his runaway bride, baggage and all.
Her father, on the other hand, says he had gone to Lucknow for his wife’s treatment, and not for fixing a match. Mishra points out that despite claims that Sakshi did not have freedom, the parents had left her unguarded at home, in good faith.
The couple kept off main highways as they headed to Prayagraj, where they got married. No, there was no explicit threat from her family, she says. One reason is that her phone was off. “But I know them and their goons,” she says.
Sakshi with husband Ajitesh Kumar Nayak
What Sakshi was perhaps not prepared for was the vitriol she encountered on social media. She had not realised that the tool she had used to tell her story could be used against her, too. “People have said such nasty things about me and my character. Why can’t they leave me alone?” she says. The caste war became an angry issue on these platforms. She even shut down some of her accounts. Then began the vilification of her husband. A gold digger, an alcoholic and more. He has dealt with this with much fortitude. “We could have eloped while she was studying in Jaipur, if that was our first choice,” he says, “We only did this when there was no option left. And no, I am not the villain in the story,” he says. The young wife is more dramatic in response, baring her claws in protection. “So I am aware that he was engaged once, that he drinks and smokes. I am fine with it, why should it bother anyone else?’’ says Sakshi, who describes herself as Abhi’s tigress in her social media profiles.
Ajitesh’s older sisters are educated and their father is a bank employee. While the family did not approve of the runaway marriage, they have supported the couple. The Mishras, on the other hand, say they have no truck with Sakshi anymore. “The court has ruled her marriage is valid. She is an adult. We have nothing to say anymore,” says her father. He, however, is firm that there is no welcome for Sakshi under his roof. “She’s told everyone there was threat from us, so why should she even come back?”
A few days ago, the couple returned to Bareilly for a few hours, to get their marriage registered, as directed by the court. The entry was a quiet one, though there was a posse of policemen for protection. With the state police facing flak regarding safety of women, and with the accident of the Unnao rape victim and her lawyer fresh in memory, no one is taking chances.
Mishra says his disapproval of Ajitesh was over their age difference and that he did not have a proper career. Ajitesh and his brother have a ceramic tile business. He denies that Ajitesh’s caste was the problem. “If that was so, would Ajitesh have come to our house with Vicky?’’ Sources, however, say this is an out and out caste war. Mishra is proud of his Brahmin roots and is casteist in outlook, despite being a lawmaker. He would never have consented to his daughter marrying a dalit.
Sakshi now says that it is not her father so much as his goons that she is afraid of. She also says the attack in the court might not have been ordered by him. Are these attempts at rapprochement? However, one thing is clear. The girl lives in constant fear, she does not once mention that she does not need police protection anymore. “What is there to fear, have I not assured the court that there is no threat from me?’’ demands Mishra. Was her social media video the best insurance that she could take for self preservation? Or, was it an exaggerated reaction? Of course, there is a threat perception, says her lawyer Vikas Rana. “The court would not have ordered protection otherwise,” he says.
The confines of her hiding place, however, have not suppressed Sakshi’s zeal for living. She has a creative bent. She writes moving prose and emotional poetry. She is also good with her DSLR camera. Though her father-in-law is encouraging her to pursue that postgraduation she so coveted once, her heart is now set on an acting career, for which she wants to go to Mumbai for a three-month course. The indulgent husband smiles, and says, “If that is what she wants, we will go there and get to see the city. She had lived in a gilded cage for years. My limited experience tells me that the more you restrict children, the more they will rebel. Give them freedom and they will learn their responsibilities.”
Courtesy : The Week