Poverty is not a crime. But it acquaints one with strange bed fellows. In the poverty-ridden old city of Hyderabad, the deprived are easy prey for the rich Romeos. Stories of teenaged brides wedded off to ageing Arabs are dime a dozen. The Moghalpura girl who was rescued the other day from the clutches of the Sudani national, Osama Karar Eltahir, is only a tip of the iceberg.
This braveheart had the grit to walk out of the marriage and complain to the police. But there are any number of docile poor Muslim girls who tie knots to elderly foreigners much against their wishes. Only the names change, but the sordid tales remain much the same. Poor parents, large families — earnings barely enough to keep body and soul together. For them, marrying off a daughter is next to impossible.
On comes an oil rich Shaikh, like knight in shining armour, and bails out the family. The indigent parents get a few thousand rupees and the child bride ends up marrying a guy old enough to be her father. The story tugs at the conscience of the society for a few days and then everything is forgotten.
Over the years scores of such unfortunate tales have unfolded in the old city at regular intervals. Who could forget the trauma of 12-year-old Ameena, the victim of forced marriage. Rescued by an alert air hostess, her story caught the nation’s attention during 1992. Her father, Shaikh Bhadruddin and mother, Sabira Begum, had eight children – six daughters and two sons.
When she was presented before the Magistrate, she expressed her wish to stay with her parents and study. Those present in the court could barely hold back their tears.
What is common between Ameena, Sameena, Kaneez Fatima and scores of other such child brides is the extreme poverty of their parents. For all of them survival is a daily struggle. Could they refuse the offer of handsome money by foreign nationals or ignore the possibility of their daughters living in luxury?
Unfortunately, most such marriages have turned sour as the foreign grooms left their brides in the lurch once they returned to their countries. The rising dowry demands of the local boys is stated to be the main reason for the poor families turning to foreign alliances. “If people don’t insist on payment of huge dowry then there is no need for the poor to look elsewhere,” says a parent.
After a hue and cry there is a sharp fall in Arab marriages. But of late contract marriages seem to be on the rise in the city. Police burst a racket in 2011 and 2012 involving Sudan nationals. Mostly Sudanese, who are in Hyderabad on student visas, are found to indulge in such marriages.
“They don’t intend to spend the rest of their lives with the girl they marry, but want to enjoy for the duration of their stay here,” police say.
Such marriages take place thanks to unscrupulous Qazis who not only perform the ‘nikah’ on the basis of fabricated documents but also arrange cosy joints for honeymoon. Two years ago police raided the premises of a faith healer at Sultan Shahi who was involved in the racket. Such was the public anger that the locals smashed the joint on learning the illegal activities going on there. Interestingly, in most such marriages of convenience, the girls are made to sign on blank bond papers. “The foreign nationals apparently want to use them for filing divorce before leaving the country,” police say.
Contract marriages are un-Islamic but pliable Qazis are ever ready to bend the Shriat rules for monetary gains. This can be stopped only breaking the nexus between the brokers, the guest house owners and the Qazis. The Wakf Board accepts the exploitation of poor Muslim girls, but says it has no say in the matter.
But none is ready to buy this argument. The Wakf Board has to exert moral pressure and crack the whip against errant Qazis, people say. The State capital has 18 Qazis appointed by the government. They in turn have several ‘naib Qazis’ to perform marriages. “None of them would perform the nikah of a minor girl,” says a Wakf Board official and blames parents for forcing their girls into such marriages for the sake of money.
But many feel it is nothing but trafficking under the garb of marriage. “There is need to look into issue from the point of human trafficking rather than as a case of marriage of foreign nationals,” says COVA director, Mazhar Husain.
Except for the citizens of Oman and Saudi Arabia, there are no rules governing marriage of foreigners with Indians. Nationals of these countries, who are below 60 years, have to obtain marriage permission from their Embassies and only on its production they are wedded and a marriage certificate issued by the Wakf Board. “We are worried only if there is a wide age gap between the marrying couples,” say Wakf Board officials.
After a hue and cry in 2004, the Wakf Board issued guidelines to Qazis. They were asked not to straightaway perform marriages involving foreign nationals, especially those of Gulf countries. The Qazis were also asked to alert the Wakf Board when they are approached to perform such marriages. Good suggestions, but they remain only on paper.