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This is the second of a four-part series.
Read from the beginning.

Tasni Banu,
abandoned by neighbours and family for marrying outside the nikah ceremony, is still angry."I haven't abused Islam. It's they who did that."

The slight, un-purdahed, 20-year-old Muslim girl is seated next to her husband Abdul Nassar. Her words, though marred by a lisp, are firm, exhibiting some of the fire that has made her a household name in Kerala.

Tasni Banu has challenged the might of an orthodox Islamic community and won. Her words convey that confidence.

"We have not, never, spoken against Islam. Our crime was that we put religion aside from our personal lives. The holy Quran says religion should not be forced on you. But they were forcing us to go by it. So who insulted Islam? They or us?" she asks.

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The 'they' here are the forces who, in the name of Islam, tried to suppress Tasni's individuality. Forces who, by brute physical strength, tried to stop her marrying Nassar. Forces who, with threats of social ostracisation, prompted her parents to lock her up for nearly a month.

"You see a contradiction in the Quran," Nassar clarifies his wife's statement, "In some parts it says religion is not forced on you. But in certain others it says you should kill the enemies of Islam. In today's circumstances we should read it in the former light. India is a multicultural, multi-religious set-up. The interpretation should be in accordance."

Tasni and Nassar are arguably Kerala's most popular couple today. A 20-year-old Muslim girl and a 27-year-old Muslim boy, famous/notorious because they didn't perform a nikah. Because they 'defied' Islam to marry under the Special Marriages Act, the alternative that India provides to nuptials under religious laws like the Muslim Personal Law or the Hindu Personal Law.

The Act, generally initiated for inter-caste unions, requires the marriage to be registered before a court of law or similar authority.

It's two months since Tasni and Nassar did that. They now live in Malappuram under a cloud of threats. In a rented house near the district police headquarters, with police protection. They hardly go out. When they do, they make it a point to return before dark.

Tasni's story starts on December 4, 1998 in her hometown Manjeri. On her way back from college, where she was a final year degree student, she had stopped to talk with a friend -- a male and, more unfortunately, a Hindu! -- when Koya, a local thug, approached. He ordered her home.

Tasni was not the feeble, obedient girl who took a man's -- any man's -- words as gospel that Koya wanted her to be. She was a girl with progressive ideas, independent, her college magazine editor, feminist. She stood up to Koya.

"He caught hold of my hand. His men started beating up my friend," Tasni says, "I went to the nearby booth and phoned the police."

The police reaction wasn't warm. Tasni's father, meanwhile, arrived and took her home. She insisted on filing a police complaint but her parents wouldn't allow it.

"They were scared of the National Development Front (a fundamentalist organisation to which Koya allegedly belongs). My family would have been in trouble if they let me go to the police."

"Please understand that Koya is not an individual. He is a representative," adds Nassar, "A representative of an institution called NDF, which considers itself the moral custodian of the Islamic society."

Tasni, however, was not done with the affair. She approached a social organisation. It turned her away. Her next call was at the People's Union for Civil Liberties, which promised help.

"But I couldn't accept it. By that time the NDF had forced my family to lock me up," Tasni recalls.

The next month was torture. Her parents tried in vain to change her mind about taking on Koya. Tasni, for her part, attempted to escape thrice, but had to turn back when neighbours intervened.

"My studies, my future, my freedom, my ambition of a job... I felt I was about to lose everything. I couldn't even go out of my house. I was to keep inside a house for the rest of my life. That is when I asked Nassar for help over the phone."

And that was when Nassar, till then a good friend, decided to marry Tasni.

"We enjoyed a deep friendship," Nassar, a grocer by trade, takes over, "We hadn't thought of marriage till then. Tasni is a feminist. I am a rationalist. A rationalist who is not afraid to say he is a rationalist. We were mostly in touch over telephone and letters.

"I wanted to help her. A girl like her, a girl with progressive ideas, one fine morning she is locked up! Just because she planned to file a case against someone who insulted her! For that crime she was kept under house arrest, her studies were stopped, she was being forced to kneel before the very man who insulted her! Under such circumstances, there was only one way to free her: marry her."

While Nassar prepared to move the Ernakulam high court for Tasni's release, another incident occurred. A group, including Tasni's father, attacked schoolteacher Jabbar's house. Jabbar and wife Fousiya, both rationalists, were Tasni's close friends.

"They would have killed us," says Jabbar, "We escaped because they cut the wrong telephone wire... The police reached just as they were breaking in."

Nassar soon moved a habeus corpus writ. The high court asked the Manjeri police to produce Tasni.

"When I appeared before the court I was mentally very unstable... They (her family) had tried to brainwash me. They conducted religious classes. They even took me to psychologists... The last time I spoke to Nassar was a month back when I sought his help. I knew I wasn't capable of taking a decision. So I asked the court for a week to think matters over."

The court granted her time. It placed her under judicial custody. On January 11, when she appeared again, Tasni had made up her mind. She would go with Nassar. And they would get married not as per Islamic laws, but under the Special Marriages Act.

Her decision, her bold statement against religious fundamentalism, however, didn't quite go down well with the court. It refused her release till the one-month notice period sought under the Act was over. She returned to judicial custody, and was freed only on February 18, the day before she and Nassar registered their marriage.

Tasni Banu speaks on, "I don't regret what I did."