India gripped by tale of Muslim girl who ran off to wed Hindu

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Like an Indian version of Romeo and Juliet, the love-struck teenagers met across a divide and planned to marry secretly against the wishes of their parents.

Where the story of Subia Gaur and Ashwani Gupta differs from Shakespeare's play is that the wedding in India was attended by one thousand impromptu well-wishers and broadcast live on television news.

And it took place because of an invention that could scarcely have been imagined in 1597: the internet.

Ms Gaur, 18, met her husband-to-be through an internet chatroom two years ago while a schoolgirl in London. The pair spent hours e-mailing each other in a mixture of English and Hindi and friendship blossomed into romance.

They finally met face-to-face in April when Ms Gaur travelled to India to visit her grandparents in Mumbai. Mr Gupta, a trainee financial analyst, travelled 700 miles by train from Delhi to see her. But there was a problem: just as in the case of the Montagues and the Capulets, the families were divided, not by a feud but by religion.

When Ms Gaur's Muslim parents learned that she was conducting a secret affair with a Hindu, they put pressure on her to end the relationship. Instead they wanted her to marry a Muslim in an arranged marriage once she had finished her studies.

Undeterred, the A-level student secretly flew to Delhi, pursued the next day by her mother.

Amid talk of death threats and police protection, the young couple spent the next month in hiding before their wedding on Monday, which generated an outpouring of public support.

For Ms Gaur, the happiness of the occasion was tarnished by the realisation of what she had left behind in Plaistow, Newham. Explaining her flight from unglamorous east London to India's bustling capital, she said: "I knew they would never accept Ashwani so I decided to go to India. We thought if we got married they wouldn't be able to take me back. I haven't had any contact with my friends or my younger brother and sister. It's been very stressful..."

His family have accepted the young couple despite the religious differences and Ms Gaur says she will not become a Hindu.

In Newham, her father grieves for the daughter he has lost to another family 5,000 miles away, but scotches any talk of retribution.

Mr Gaur, a shop manager, said he had suffered a mild heart attack last week and was "suffering more than you can imagine". But he dismissed remarks from a police chief in Delhi that some of Ms Gaur's relatives had tried to take her away.

"She is part of my body, my first-born child, and it is madness to say that we could harm her in any way," Mr Gaur said. "I believe she has been brainwashed - she doesn't understand what she has done.

"She is a Muslim above all and she has married a Hindu and that is the most shocking thing about this, not that she has lied to us and married against our wishes. We knew nothing about this man until April, when he flew from his home to Bombay."

Mr Gaur claimed that his unwanted son-in-law had only married his daughter to obtain a British passport but would welcome them both to London if he converted to Islam.

Newspapers and television in India have devoted considerable space to the story, with some applauding the couple and others complaining the girl had upset her parents.

Ms Gaur said: "I knew the first time I met Ashwani in person that he was the one I was going to marry. Religion doesn't matter.

"I never wanted the attention that I've received. But if there is someone in my position, I hope my story gives them the courage to follow their heart."