The truth surrounding the heinous flesh trade in the name of contract marriages to rich and aged Arab sheikhs surfaces every once in a while in the city. Though a very common practice, reports about this come to light only when the victims bravely confronts the society around her.
A 61-year old Omani sheikh was arrested on Friday only after the 14-year old victim managed to escape from his clutches and report to police with the help of her uncle. Not only did she save herself, but ended up in the rescue of another minor girl who the sheikh had married after the first one escaped.
“The nexus between parents, brokers and qazis is unbelievable. There is nothing shameful since the law permits it,” says Dr Shahida, associate professor in the department of Women Education at Maulana Azad National Urdu University. She says, such high rate of human rights violation is nothing but ‘religious prostitution’.
Detailing about the case, Bhavani Nagar police said that the 61-year old Omani sheikh who had arrived in the city for medical checkup, was first put up in a lodge in Lakdi-ka-pul where he met an auto driver who later introduced him to the broker Habib, who with the help of other brokers got him minor girls on both the occasions. “The nexus is between hotel employees, auto rickshaw drivers, parents, brokers and qazis. They identify these sheikhs and bring them whatever they want,” said police.
South Zone DCP Sarvasreshta Tripathi said that it was important that the public are informed and made aware to inform police in case of such marriages.
Shahida, who had undertaken a detailed research on the subject, points out that reasons range from poverty to misuse of Sharia law and the evil practice of dowry in the society. “Parents cannot afford to pay huge dowries to young boys here and at the same time, can make some money if they give their girls to such sheikhs. Contractual marriages are permitted in Islam. And add that to the difficulty of finding young girls and the extravaganza involved in marriages in their countries,” explains the researcher. According to her, more than 60 per cent of Muslim women in Hyderabad are still not aware of their basic rights.
Throwing a bit of light into the history of sheikh marriages in the city, social activist Jameela Nishad of Shaheen - Women’s Resource Welfare Association says the Muslim Personal Law is being wrongly interpreted. It was in the 1970s, she says, girls from the city were being married off to sheikhs in Arabia, and enjoyed due respect. According to her, by 1980s reports of harassment at the hands of Arab families started emerging and also by then the Saudi government started insisting that the first wife of an Arab should be an Arab.
“Some women started staying back with maintenance. But, by 1990s, the trend of sheikhs marrying city women increased tremendously due to increased foreign exposure. Even today, there is no clearcut data on such marriages,” she noted.
Educating Muslim women about the true teachings of Islam and appealing scholars to address the issues like Meher (a mandatory amount of money paid by the groom to the bride at the time of marriage, for her exclusive use), and provisions like Talaaq (divorce), Polygamy, etc was need of the hour, stressed Shahida.