It has been more than three years since Dhalo and Payal tied the knot in a court at Sanghar. But the couple, who narrowly survived many months in hiding from bloodthirsty people, still get flashbacks from the time they spent helplessly wandering from village to village in search of a secure shelter.
“I was 18 when I left my parents’ home with Dhalo one night in September 2018, because we loved each other and my parents wanted me to marry someone else of our caste, whom I did not even know or see till that time,” Payal says. “It was a matter of caste. My caste is Sonaro and Dhalo belongs to the Bheel caste. In the Hindu social and religious system, caste matters most. The Sonaro caste is believed to be an upper caste while the Bheels are considered a lower/scheduled caste, so everyone was opposing that marriage.”
Dhalo and Payal were classmates at a private school/college in Kadiyari town of district Sanghar where they began to like each other. But as they both were aware that it would be near to impossible for them to continue their relationship because of caste-based differences present in Sindh’s Hindu communities for centuries, they mutually decided not to contact each other after passing out from the college in March 2018. Meanwhile, Payal’s parents began pressurising her for marriage.
Dhalo says, “I belonged to a poor family so after completion of college, I joined a private school as a teacher and in the evening I tutored some students to make ends meet, in a private place at Kadiyari town where Payal’s two younger brothers and a younger sister were also my students.”
According to Dhalo, Payal’s sister always told him that Payal is down in the dumps since she finished her studies due to parental pressure for marriage. “I knew she would never do what her parents are asking for, and she might take a wrong step in anxiety, so in spite of knowing the answer of Payal’s parents, I decided to send my parents with a marriage proposal to Payal’s home. But, as expected, her parents insulted my family and straightforwardly refused, by saying we have no match with them because we are Bheels.”
After a few days, Payal’s failed attempt to commit suicide provided her parents with a solid reason to fix the date of her marriage quickly, but that tragic occurrence was painful for Dhalo and they finally decided to elope.
In August 2018, they left their homes at midnight without informing anyone in their family or friends. Payal says, “We neither had any roof to cover our heads nor a person to contact for help, so we kept hiding here and there for three weeks.”
Dhalo says, “We spent some days in a vacant house near Mirpurkhas where a neighboring Muslim couple/family provided us with food and bedding. Then we shifted to a village of the Bheel community in the same district. Meanwhile, the news of our elopement had spread like wildfire everywhere. One night, the goons sent by the father of Payal attacked the house we were staying in. We could barely save our lives and left the place.”
After such a deadly encounter with goons, they relocated to another village of the Kolhi community in Umerkot district, where they stayed for a few days. Finding no way of making their marriage accepted by their parents, they finally decided to knock on the doors of the court. They appeared in Sanghar district court on 3 September 2018 where the court accepted, their will, and the court marriage took place.
Advocate Akram a lawyer at the Sanghar District Court says, “Both Dhalo and Payal were aged above 18 and willing to marry each other, so the court accepted their will. After passage of the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act 2016, which later came to be known as Sindh Hindu Marriage Amendment Act 2018, it was the first inter-caste marriage reported in Sindh.”
Trials and tribulations
According to Dhalo, the real test for them was about to begin from there. When the family of Payal came to know about that court marriage, her father exerted pressure on the family of Dhalo by different means. Dhalo says: “My father and brothers were working as farm labourers on agricultural land of a local landlord, who was the friend of Mohan (Payal’s father). So, on Mohan’s instructions, the landlord put a stop to the services of my family. Not only this, but the landlord also repossessed the land where my family lived for years, and they became homeless.”
Dhalo’s family paid a heavy price for the step taken by him. Partabo Mal, 62, the father of Dhalo says, “In a short span of some months, we had lost our bread and butter, home and social reputation. Mohan was a well-off man, so he greatly influenced the area. He had told everyone in the area that no one would help us or allow us to work for them or live in their area, so we finally left the village and went to our relatives living near Dil Shakh area.”
Meanwhile, Dhalo and Payal kept changing their locations from time to time so that people from the clan of Payal could not find and kill them. Payal recalls, “I got in contact with my younger sister, who told me that my bloodthirsty father, brother and uncles have been searching for us everywhere and they want to kill us.”
Between a rock and a hard place
Dhalo says, “It was not Payal’s family alone, but people of both the castes also stood against the step we took, which to them was anti-social. Local Hindu Pundits had issued a religious order that neither we (Dhalo and Payal) nor my family could be forgiven for the sin we committed.”
Partabomal says, “Some people of our own Bheel community set our hut on fire one night but we escaped. They boycotted us socially and forced us to leave the village.”
According to Heeralal Bheel, the general secretary of the Sindh Bheel Panchayat, it is a common culture for centuries that if anyone from the Bheel caste/community commits a crime (real or perceived), their whole family must suffer as it warns others to avoid violation of the ‘law of nature.’ He adds:
“We believe in the Panchayat system, and everyone has to obey the decision of the elders anyhow.”
In the span of around five months, Dhalo and Payal crossed half of the province, as they wanted to stay away from the people who were in wait to kill them. In December 2018, they contacted the court again, requesting to get protection, which was accepted by the court, and they were given police protection.
Dhalo and Payal now live with the parents of Dhalo in a village near Dil Shakh area of district Sanghar. All other relatives of Dhalo have boycotted him and his family, while the family of Payal has not contacted her since those days.
“We never expected such a bad ending to our love story. We are alive and living together, but sometimes it feels like we paid a heavy price for loving each other,” Payal laments, wiping tears from her face.