Holy Matrimony: Indian Politician Converts, Takes Second Wife, Vanishes
Mr. Mohan, a Hindu, Became a Muslim to Marry His Mistress; Then Things Got Messy
Wall Street Journal
February 24, 2009
By YAROSLAV TROFIMOV
CHANDIGARH, India -- As India was reeling from the Mumbai terrorist attacks in December, Chander Mohan, deputy chief minister of the northern state of Haryana, made a shocking announcement.
Mr. Mohan, whose overwhelmingly Hindu state of 23 million people is among India's most prosperous, declared that he had converted to Islam. The 43-year-old father of two added that he had also just wed a second wife, another Muslim convert.
What's happened since has all the trappings of a Bollywood plot, replete with an alleged kidnapping and mysterious disappearances. The drama's serious subtext shows how crucial religious identity remains in a country that bills itself as the world's largest secular democracy.
Serving his fourth term in Haryana's legislature, Mr. Mohan was widely touted by supporters as a future chief minister, the equivalent of a U.S. governor. But immediately after the conversion announcement, he was fired from his job and relieved of his security detail. The Haryana government also dismissed his new wife, 37-year-old lawyer Anuradha Bali, from her position as the state's assistant advocate-general.
The official reason for both sackings was that Mr. Mohan, now known as Chand Mohammad, and Ms. Bali, who now goes by the Muslim name of Fiza, failed to perform their government duties. Both dispute this assessment.
"This was all just because we became Muslim. There is no other good reason," said Ms. Bali in a recent interview, chewing gum while fiddling with her two cellular phones.
Twists on TV
Mr. Mohan's sympathizers, who have followed the twists of the case on Indian TV networks, largely agree. Their logic: It was politically untenable to have a Muslim deputy chief minister, a post equivalent to a U.S. lieutenant-governor, in a state like Haryana. Some of the worst violence between Hindus and Muslims occurred in this part of the subcontinent during its partition along religious lines in 1948.
Mr. Mohan "has lost his Hindu vote bank, and he would lose the next election here if he stays a Muslim," says 52-year-old engineer Jeevan Singh, who resides in the politician's Panchkula constituency and voted for Mr. Mohan in previous elections.
The Haryana government's information secretary, K.K. Khandelwal, denied that religion was a factor. He said that Mr. Mohan and Ms. Bali had been fired simply for not doing their jobs. Yet, he added: "In public life you have to maintain certain standards and cannot behave like Romeo and Juliet. This became a matter of jokes. The government -- and the chief minister -- had to save their image."
Met at Juice Stall
A divorcee, Ms. Bali says that her affair with the politician began after the two met by chance at a juice stall in 2004. She says she yielded to Mr. Mohan's insistent messages and love letters -- some of which, she claims, were written in blood. Mr. Mohan's Hindu wife, Seema Bishnoi, was aware of the budding love story for several months and in mid-2008 confronted Ms. Bali, demanding an end to the affair, according to Ms. Bali and Mr. Mohan's spokesman. Ms. Bishnoi couldn't be reached for comment and didn't respond to a note left at her home.
Ms. Bali, a brunette who wears jeans and keeps her hair uncovered, says that Mr. Mohan finally left his home last October, saying that he wanted to start a new life with her.
Indian law, however, prohibits bigamy and makes divorce a complicated procedure. It might have been especially complicated in Mr. Mohan's case because his house and numerous other assets are registered in the name of Ms. Bishnoi and their children.
Yet, there was a loophole: India's 150 million Muslims, unlike other Indian citizens, are exempted from the secular legislation in family matters. Instead, they are governed by Islamic personal law, or sharia, which permits Muslim men to have up to four wives. While Indians are free to change their religion, conversion to Islam solely for the purpose of marriage is deemed illegal.
Ms. Bali insists she and Mr. Mohan -- whose whereabouts are currently unknown -- converted weeks before the marriage because they both embraced the Muslim faith. "I intend to remain a Muslim until my death," she says.
The two exchanged vows on Dec. 2 in a secret ceremony in the town of Meerut, across the state line in neighboring Uttar Pradesh. The wedding, apart from upending Haryana politics, quickly set off a battle of rival fatwas among India's top Muslim clerics.
Maulana Habib ur-Rehman, Indian Punjab's senior cleric and the imam of the Ludhiana Grand Mosque, described Mr. Mohan's conversion as a fraud that "insulted Islam and hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." He was later contradicted by scholars at the Darul Uloom Waqf seminary in Deoband, one of India's most respected Islamic authorities. They ruled that the marriage was perfectly valid and condemned Mr. Mohan's dismissal as a "grave injustice."
Mr. Mohan's father, a former chief minister and one of Haryana's most influential politicians, has said publicly that he disowns his son.
Despite condemnations, the new couple enjoyed a brief moment of glory in the weeks after the wedding. At a packed news conference, Ms. Bali argued that Mr. Mohan had chosen the honorable route -- unlike some other Indian politicians who have been known to keep mistresses.
On Jan. 25, the two organized in Chandigarh a massive religious ceremony attended by Muslim, Hindu and Christian clerics. Speaking to thousands of attendees, they proclaimed that all religions were equally valid and worthy of respect, and that religious hatred had no place in Indian society.
Then, three days later, Mr. Mohan disappeared.
A distraught Ms. Bali filed a police report, alleging that her husband had been kidnapped by his relatives. Days later, Mr. Mohan surfaced -- at the house of his brother in a Haryana suburb bordering Delhi. He told an Indian TV crew that he now sought to reconcile with his first wife and children, and referred to himself by his Hindu name. Shortly after the broadcast, Ms. Bali ended up in a hospital, overdosing on sleeping pills. "My life is totally ruined," she said.
After the hospitalization, Mr. Mohan gave another TV interview -- his last public appearance. In those comments earlier this month, he said that he's still a Muslim and that he remains married to Ms. Bali. Amid the media hoopla, India's federal railways minister, Lalu Prasad, who heads a major party in the ruling coalition, pitched in. He said that the affair highlighted the perils of love marriages -- and urged young Indians to let parents alone match them to their future spouses.
Meanwhile, Ms. Bali, unemployed and living with her mother, has filed with police a criminal complaint against her fugitive husband. She accused him of fraud and invoked an Indian law that considers sex obtained under false pretenses, such as a marriage promise, as rape. "Chand has only seen a woman in love -- he has not yet seen my other side, a woman in anger."
This week, Indian police received in response to Ms. Bali's complaint a fax which they believe to be from Mr. Mohan. In the two-page letter, signed with both his Hindu and Muslim names, Mr. Mohan claimed to be somewhere in Britain for "medical treatment" and that he never deserted, defrauded or raped Ms. Bali. "However," he added, "I must admit I am deeply hurt by her conduct."
—Vibhuti Agarwal in New Delhi contributed to this article.
Deoband slams Chand Mohammad, calls him lowly
2 Feb 2009
Times of India
by Manjari Mishra
LUCKNOW: If Chand Mohammad becomes Chandra Mohan once again, where does it leave Fiza? Though the former Haryana deputy CM — who's serenading his first wife after the high-voltage conversion and nikah drama last December — would like to keep both women happy, the ulema are certainly not amused.
Aghast by Chand Miyan's flip-flop, a panel of ulema from Darul-Ifta (the fatwa department of the Islamic seminary Darul-Uloom Deoband) slammed the politician for his attempt to "hoodwink both man and maker". The edict was severe. "Chand Mohammad, it's clear, embraced Islam to avoid legal complications that would have followed his second marriage. Yeh nihayat hi giri hui harkat hai (this was a very lowly act)," they said and added that his action needs to be condemned.
"If he renounces Islam and goes back to his faith, Fiza is free to wed again," they said. The nikah, under the circumstances, will be deemed `khariz' (annulled) without resorting to observance of any other formality, they maintained. But before Fiza opts for remarriage, the ulema also made it incumbent upon her to "observe the mandatory three months and 10 days of ‘iddat' (the interval to rule out pregnancy of a divorced woman), which could mean observing purdah and staying at home for the stipulated time. Fiza, they said, was welcome to contact the sarai court `Dar-ul-Qaza' for further action in this regard.
The fatwa was pronounced by sadar mufti of Dar-ul-Ifta Maulana Ehsan Kasmi along with Mufti Maulana Nadeem Akhtar, Mufti Maulana Shah Kaisar, Mufti Umeli Naib and Islamic scholar Najeebul Bazvi, in response to a query sent to the seminary over the fate of the controversial nikah amid speculations that there could be trouble in the paradise.
The ulema's stance is in stark contrast to the one taken two months ago. On December 10, 2008, an expert panel, including Mufti Maulana Ehsan Kasmi, had ruled that "conversion to Islam before marriage by the former deputy CM did not raise doubts about his bona fide. Although it's not possible to fathom the secrets of one's heart, there is enough evidence to suggest that Chand Miyan did not resort to conversion for perpetrating a fraud."
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