Indian police are investigating after a groom says he was abducted and forced to marry a woman at gunpoint.
Dubbed a literal shotgun wedding, the nuptials took place in the eastern state of Bihar, according to police and video clips that surfaced online on Friday.
The family of Vinod Kumar, an engineer at the steel plant in the town of Bokaro, claim he was abducted and coerced into the pakadua vivah, or forced wedding, in Bihar.
The case is unusual even for a relatively volatile state like Bihar as the protagonists are from middle-class, urban, high caste families. Typically forced marriage cases involve lower caste, rural families and more often than not the abductee is a bride, not a groom.
Although cases are rare, grooms are known to be coerced into marriage to force them to enter legal agreements over property or business with the bride’s family, or simply so the woman’s relatives do not have to put up an expensive dowry to attract a suitor.
Police say Mr Kumar’s relatives approached them a few weeks after the incident for protection, as they feared reprisals from a local underworld chief. Mr Kumar’s brother also said one of the bride’s family was holding a gun during the ceremony.
Senior Superintendent of Police Manu Maharaj. from Patna, the state capital, then ordered officers to free Kumar from the village where he was kept after the marriage. The groom is currently under police protection and the bride and her relatives are said to be on the run, local media reported.
The saga came to light when video clips of the marriage ceremony surfaced this week, showing a distraught Kumar being coerced into performing traditional Hindu wedding rituals.
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When the 29-year-old engineer refused to put vermillion, the traditional red dye used in Hindu weddings, on the bride’s forehead, members of her family are heard saying in the local language of Bhojpuri: “Are you being hanged? We are solemnising your wedding only. Which mountain is being placed on your head?”.
Kumar’s brother Sanjay alleges Surendra Yadav, described as a gangster by local media, orchestrated the events at the behest of the bride’s family.
News18 interviewed the bride’s brother, Umesh Prasad, who denied that it was a forced marriage and said it was a normal wedding. However, he became irritable when asked about the video clips that surfaced on the web, in which the groom was seen being manhandled. “I do not know about any video. He is now opposing this marriage at the behest of his brother. I wish they live a happy married life”, said Mr Prasad.
Mr Kumar added that local police were unhelpful, which is why he went to the police in Patna. Mr Kumar hinted that they were in cahoots with the local strongman Mr Yadav, who in the past has been linked to the disgraced former chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, (no relation).
Superintendent Amarkesh of Patna Police, in charge of Mr Kumar’s protective detail, said: “We are looking into it and will take action against the culprits. We are also probing the role of the local police.”
Forced marriage remains a major problem for India, various estimates put the number of kidnaps related to marriage between 2,800-3,000 last year, and several websites and phone hotlines are available for potential victims.