Monday, March 11, 2013
The one-month wives
Osama Ibrahim arrived in Hyderabad a month ago with very specific requirements: he wanted to marry a girl below 20; he would pay Rs 1 lakh to her family as bride price; the marriage would last a month; and that he would leave the country after a divorce.
The 44-year-old Sudanese engineer, who has a wife and two children back home, had no problem finding what he wanted. At least five brokers agreed to provide girls and families meeting his specifications. He rejected three brides-to-be, before selecting a 17-year-old.
Her story would have become one of many in Hyderabad's bride bazaar but for the fact that this girl decided to fight back. On March 1, eight days after the nikaah, she managed to escape, reached Moghalpura police station and filed a complaint.
Since then, Ibrahim, the girl's father Yousuf Ali, her aunt Mumtaz Begum, the qazi who conducted the wedding, Mohammed Nasiruddin, and an alleged broker, Zahira Begum, have been arrested. On March 5, the girl was shifted into protective custody at a Government Girls' Home on the recommendation of the Investigating Officer in the case, Vijay Kumar.
"I was surprised when I came to know that the marriage was performed by a government-appointed qazi. It is illegal. He claims he did not know about the contract (for the wedding), but I do not believe him," Inspector Kumar says.
The 17-year-old from Moghalpura's Tallabkatta area has eight younger siblings—two brothers and six sisters. Both her parents, Yousuf and wife Ayesha, work as labourers. Yousuf has two other wives, with several more children. His two brothers and their families also live with them.
An intermediate drop-out, the girl says she was told she would be marrying a wealthy engineer, who would pay her father Rs 1 lakh. "I did not know that he was 44 years old and already married. On February 21, the nikaah was performed at our house and, even before I could give my consent, the ceremony was over. I was in shock and do not even remember saying kabool. Only after the ceremony did I see him," she says.
"After the wedding, he came to our house every day but I always found one excuse or the other not to be alone with him. My friend helped me slip away from home and call the police," she says.
Zahira Begum, who is accused of brokering the marriage between the Sudanese and the girl's family, initially tried to pass herself off as a distant relative. But police have found that she was not related and allege that she is a well-known broker operating in Charminar, Moghalpura and Barkas areas.
The girl's aunt met Ibrahim through brokers, who also contacted families of several other girls. "Ibrahim chose this girl, paid the money to her aunt and within hours, a qazi performed the nikaah. The girl was taken home and was to return to the guesthouse where Ibrahim was staying, but she slipped away from home and lodged a police complaint," says Kumar.
Ibrahim is among the many "grooms" from Sudan and Nigeria believed to be scouting Hyderabad for young girls to marry and leave. The racket that was earlier confined to sheikhs from the Gulf has spread to these African countries. There are cases where young students from East African countries have entered into contracts with girls' families with a clause that the alliance is to automatically end the day they complete their studies and return home.
"It is often girls from poverty-ridden families who are forced to agree. Sometimes there are six to eight girls in a family, and they feel there is no way out. The understanding is that the bride price received would pay off debts, if any, and help the family in dire straits. It also paves the way for other girls in the family to marry," says Shiraz Amina Khan of the NGO Women and Child Welfare Society.
If anything, getting such brides has become easier. "Earlier, at least the bride price was a few lakh rupees, now it is just about one lakh. After brokers take their cut, the family ends up getting less," says Khan.
The Waqf Board says that government-appointed qazis do not perform these contract marriages. But the girl's case proves this to be wrong. "Such marriages cannot be considered valid under the law of the land or Islamic law. Poor families are falling into this trap lured by brokers and fixers," says Ikramullah, chief of the government-appointed qazis for Hyderabad. He adds that he would make sure that Nasiruddin, who performed the girl's marriage, is convicted and never performs another nikaah.
Last July, concerned over the increasing number of such marriages, the Waqf Board had called a meeting of government-appointed qazis. "Our aim was to convey to the qazis that they should desist from performing contract marriages," Waqf Board chairman Syed Gulam Afzal Biyabani says. However, of the 14 government-appointed qazis, only eight turned up. "Of the eight, two said they would not perform a marriage if they 'felt' something was not right or the girl 'appeared' to be a minor. Only after we talked tough did they agree to scrutinise all marriages involving foreign nationals," a Waqf official says.
Officials admit the demand and the ready supply, given the desperation of the families, make it difficult to break the nexus. Still, they believe, the Waqf Board is not strict enough. "The board should not attest marriage certificates in suspicious cases and insist on couples registering their marriages. Qazis should be asked to file copies of all nikaahnamas of marriages they perform. If the board wants, it can ask the qazis to insist that foreign nationals get permission from their governments to marry here," says Zahid Ali Khan, editor of Siasat newspaper, which ran a campaign a few years ago against contract marriages.
One of the senior-most qazis in Hyderabad, Ali Abdullah Rafai, was arrested in 2011 and his licence cancelled after he arranged contract marriages of several minor girls with Arabs. In the past two years, at least six government-appointed qazis have been either suspended or arrested, according to the Waqf Board.
"Everyone knows that in Islam, such contract marriages do not have any validity," says Khan of the Women and Child Welfare Society. "They are just disguising what they do by labelling it a contract marriage."
|Subscribe to Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance India HTRAI|
|Visit this group|