Madehpura: In Bihar, there is an old saying that goes: "The reproductive organ does not recognise even sisters of mothers". Furthermore, the Kaulik sect that originated from the Aghora cult has this notion, in Sanskrit: "Sarv Yoni Biharesu, Matri Yoni Barjite (one can have sex with anyone barring one's mother)”.
It was perhaps this dogma that led Suraj Mehta to marry his mother-in-law Asha Devi, on 6 June, before a notary of Dhamdaha Court in Purnea district of Bihar. They lived as ‘legal’ husband and wife merely for 17 days at Mehta's thatched house in Puraini village, Madhepura district. Puraini became a block 10 years ago, though it has been a panchayat for a lot longer.
On 23 June, both Mehta and Asha Devi filed for divorce in front of the same notary.
Says Umesh Sahani, the sarpanch of Puraini Panchayat, “They have realised that they committed a big paap (sin) by destroying the sacred relation between saas and damaad." He denied that he had ever sanctioned or recognised the marriage between the two. “Not a single media person except you approached me for my reaction on the issue which dominates the conversation of each and every person (here)," Sahani says. "How can a panchayat give approval to it (the marriage)?"
As for the sought-after couple, they are rarely available to those seeking their comments. They seldom leave their home, since the day they got married.
Says Pradeep Arya, one of the residents here: "They are seen outside the house only when they have to answer nature's call since they have no toilet at home."
Mehta and Asha Devi both belong to the Kushwaha caste. Suraj's father Parmanand Mehta has deserted him; "I feel ashamed to accept him as my son," he says, his anger apparent. The other members of their caste have also boycotted the couple, and that may be one of the reasons for their secluded life.
Suraj Mehta agreed to speak to me only after I said I was working for an NGO that helps in resolving domestic disputes. “I admit I have committed a mistake which is not to be repeated. I have started paying regard to her (Asha Devi) as my mother," he said over phone. He repeatedly requested that I persuade his wife (Lalita Kumari) to return and live with him. However, he claims Lalita was (more) responsible for whatever happened between him his mother-in-law.
Asha Devi too now expresses regret for marrying her son-in-law. “No longer do I treat him as my husband but as a son-in-law. We have already submitted papers in the court for divorce. I want to go to (my) husband at the earliest," she said.
The villagers all seem to know the twists and turns of this bizarre ‘love story’.
Suraj Mehta married Lalita Kumari, the daughter of Surendra Mehta of the nearby Maruaahi village in Auraee Panchayat, in June 2013. Being an agricultural labourer, Suraj worked hard to sustain his wife and son (the child was born in 2014). His work made him fall ill.
This was when his mother-in-law Asha Devi came to Puraini to enquire after his health, and then stayed back to help Mehta through his recuperation.
"It was during this time that they developed a physical relationship," says Suraj's father Parmanand. "I had warned my son to stay away from her as I felt she was not a theek-thaak aurat."
Suraj's wife Lalita Kumari apparently didn't sense anything amiss. “A daughter can never doubt the character of her mother," says Puspa Ranjan Kumar, a former mukhiya.
Asha Devi’s husband (Surendra Mehta) has been working as a Grade Four employee at a factory in Delhi. She lives alone at her village with a daughter and two sons. Suraj became a frequent visitor to her home — the distance between the two villages is a mere three km.
“All of us villagers have been in the know for the past two years that Suraj Mehta and Asha Devi are in a sexual relationship," says Pappu of Maruaahi village.
On the morning of 5 June, Suraj went Maruaahi and took Asha Devi to Dhamdaha on the pretext of consulting a doctor. They got married at a Shiva temple and on the following day, with the help of a local advocate, tied the knot before the notary. They have not mentioned their relationship in the affidavit they submitted in court.
“The couple celebrated their suhaag raat (first night) as registered husband and wife at the house of their relative in Tarauna village," says Umesh Ram, who is a lawyer at the village court of Puraini.
News of their marriage spread like wildfire across the villages and when they landed at Puraini two days later, people welcomed them with abuse. A maha (grand) panchayat was convened at the house of Puspa Ranjan Kumar which was attended by sarpanches of both Puraini and Auraee Panchayats, the officer-in-charge of Puraini, Lalita Kumari, Surendra Mehta and hundreds of people from the two villages of Puraini and Maruaahi.
The atmosphere was surcharged with anger, and at one point, it was feared that the crowd would lynch Suraj and Asha Devi. Sensing this, the duo started to weep, with Asha Devi begging Surendra Mehta to pardon her and take her back. At the time Suraj did "sit-ups" and held his ears to ask Lalita Kumari for forgiveness. But both father and daughter said they didn't want their respective spouses back. “I want the money and belongings given to my husband as dowry by my father during our wedding. At any cost I will not stay with him," she said.
“We did not have any way out but to ask the couple to stay together because neither is acceptable to his/her partner," said Puspa Ranjan Kumar, who presided over the maha panchayat, clarifying, “The panchayat never approved the marriage".
Reports filtering out from the house of Suraj and Asha Devi state that they are not living together as husband and wife but are desperate to return to their respective worlds. In the meantime, Lalita Kumari and Surendra Mehta have filed a case in the court at Uda Kishanganj for recovering her dowry, although some village elders are attempting to change the minds of the angry father and daughter.