The contract marriage menace in Hyderabad
By Shaina NC
In a country where the female form has been worshipped for aeons, there is an equally strong sentiment against women. This sentiment manifests in atrocities, crimes, and exploitation of all conceivable kinds. In this day and era of enlightened media, there’s greater reporting of such exploitation, however some still manage to evade the radar of media coverage.
Hyderabad is a city known for tehzeeb, cuisine and pearls. It is also a city where young girls routinely get sold to third-rate Arab sheikhs and now students, all for a pittance. In the latest incident, 17-year old Asiya Begum was sought to be ‘married off’ to an unidentified sheikh. When she dithered, the qazi sent over his son to forcibly bring her from her home. While the qazi has been taken into custody, the son is still absconding. The modus operandi is as follows: identify young girls, cajole their illiterate parents to sign nikahnamas and divorce papers at the same time, and give some money as inducement. From all observations, this seems to be a flourishing racket, as there have been hundreds of such cases in the past. And unless enforcement agencies and the Waqf Board commit to end such blatant exploitation, more such cases will happen. In a recent twist to the racket, students from the middle-east region have also been marrying such ‘virginal’ brides, only to ditch them soon after they had had their thrill. The divorce papers signed at the time of the nikaah facilitate an easy exit from the commitment. The girls seek refuge back in a society that is unforgiving and callous.
It is quite intuitive to take positions on this issue fairly quickly. The qazi is an exploitative agent, the girls in question are misguided souls, and the parents are driven by acute poverty and clever agents to comply with such contract marriages. While all these stereotypes have more than a grain of truth, the issue is certainly more complex, and enjoys complicity of politicians, police officials, and the community in general. Some years back, an IAS officer had conducted a survey in the walled city of Hyderabad. A majority of young girls expressed a desire to get married to sheikhs, for greater financial stability and access to luxury. Parents surveyed expressed even more keenness to offer their girls in marriage to sheikhs, on the widespread assumption that all sheikhs are ‘rich and caring’. The survey was an eye-opener, and brought into focus an issue that has ruined the lives of several young girls.
What is about these sheikhs and students from the Middle East that parents are routinely prepared to marry-off their girls to people that are several years older and whose antecedents are totally unknown? Is it just poverty that coerces them into these acts? Or is it the wider problem that girls must be married-off as soon as possible, thus freeing the parents from their responsibility? I mean, if these girls are given better education, wouldn’t they be more financially independent, and therefore better prepared to overcome the tribulations that life offers? Financial independence, even upon being ditched by their ‘dubious’ husbands, would enable them to reclaim a significant part of their lives. But that’s another debate. Coming back to Asiya and thousands like her, what is alarming is how cleanly and routinely such stories escape almost everyone’s attention? Asiya’s case got highlighted as her mother dithered and the qazi turned criminal, but thousands of other girls have their lives ruined when their parents, qazis, police officials and media all refrain from highlighting their plight after they’re ditched by the husbands.
Clearly, the Waqf Board must take up such cases with the enforcement authorities. They must also ostracise qazis who double up as agents and facilitate such sham contract marriages. The politicians, especially those belonging to the political party that has a virtually vice-like grip on the Muslims of the old city, must desist from playing politics for petty political gains. The police officials must ensure a solid crackdown against such marriages, and bring the perpetrators to justice. Girls and their parents, in this era of media enlightenment, must conceptualise different options than marriage while being a teenager. Finally, media must leverage its considerable power and reach to first highlight such cases, and then follow them to their logical conclusion. Not everything in the world can be run by TRPs, especially when innocent girls are falling victim to exploitation in a more implicit manner.
(The writer is a social activist and member BJP national executive. She is a fashion designer by profession).