The recent arrests of eight Sheikhs and a Qazi for their involvement in trafficking and child marriages show how a network of brokers and racketeers lure poor parents into selling their daughters to rich Arabs in the name of marriage in Hyderabad.
“Ammee, mubarak ho, aap ko satra damaad mila hain” (Congrats mother. You have now got the 17th son-in-law). This stark message from 18-year-old Rehana Begum to her mother Moin Begum sums up the plight of the Hyderabad’s child brides.
Rehana, from Nasheman Nagar in the in the Old City of Hyderabad, is the eldest of four sisters in the family of Sirajuddin Ahmed, an auto driver. She was only 14 when she was first married to a 55-year-old Arab Sheikh from Dubai in 2004.
After a simple marriage ceremony at a hotel in Mumbai, the parents left Rehana with her husband. A month later, he deserted her at a Mumbai railway station. A crest fallen Rehana, who was pregnant by then, returned home only to undergo the same ordeal after a few months.
Rehana’s parents, who made huge money by ‘selling’ her to the Dubai-based Sheikh, got her aborted and married her off to another Sheikh. This time a 70-year-old from Qatar.
Her “groom” took her to his country, only to sell her off to another Sheikh a few months later. In the next four years, she had changed another 14 hands, said Sultana, an NGO activist.
Rehana’s case is not an isolated incident. In the last four decades, old city of Hyderabad witnessed thousands of such Muslim child brides falling victims to the sexual desires of cash-rich Arab Sheiks from the Middle East countries. But their plights were mostly overlooked as the victims rarely came forward to lodge a complaint.
To change the scenario, NGOs like Shaheen with the help of the Hyderabad police for the past few years have been trying to prevent “selling” of minor Muslims girls to ageing Arab Sheiks.
“Earlier there was no data of such child marriage. In the last 10 years, we could gather information about 500 such cases, but our estimate is that the actual number would be at least 10 times more. Last year alone, as many as 100 cases came to our notice,” says Jamila Nishat, chairperson of Shaheen.
CHILD BRIDE RACKET
Number of Muslim child bride marriages recorded by NGOs: Over 500 in the last 10 years, but it’s estimated to be at least 10 times more. In 2016 alone, over 100 cases were recorded.
Number of arrests made in the last 10 days: 11 sheiks, four qazis including two chief qazis of Mumbai and Hyderabad, four lodge owners and eight brokers.
The total number of brokers identified: 50 brokers — 15 from the Gulf and 35 from Hyderabad, including 25 women.
Local brokers divide the sheiks into three categories: Auto wallas (who move in ordinary transport) staying at local lodges, Ambassador wallas (who move in Ambassador cars) staying in middle-range hotels and Innova wallas (who move in luxury cars), staying at star hotels.
Rate of a bride depends on the financial status of the Sheiks — from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh. Bride’s family gets only one-fourth of the amount and the remaining is shared by brokers, Qazis and other local contacts.
Hyderabad deputy commissioner of police (South Zone) V Satyanarayana said only nine such cases have been registered by the police since 2010.
“It was only after our intense campaign among the poor Muslim families by organising counselling with the help of the NGOs and other activists, the victims have started coming forward to complain to the police,” the DCP said.
In the last few weeks, the police also launched a crackdown on the network of brokers who bring Arab Sheiks to Hyderabad, local contacts who make arrangements for the marriages with child brides and Qazis, who perform Nikahs.
On September 20, police arrested eight Sheiks from Qatar, a Mumbai-based Qazi and scores of brokers, besides hotel owners. A week later, the cops arrested the chief Qazi of Hyderabad, who was the kingpin in the racket.
For the last four decades, Hyderabad has been the place to go for the Sheiks looking for “virgin brides” in the age group of 12-14 years. The poor Muslim parents were lured by the money these Sheiks are willing to pay for the stopgap marriage.
“The old city has links with Arab countries for ages. Many of Yemen nationals have settled in Barkas area. Through them, Arab Sheiks have started showing interest in Hyderabadi girls,” columnist and Muslim intellectual Mir Ayub Ali Khan said.
The Sheikhs preferred Hyderabadi girls for their pretty look and good physique. “Besides, they can also do a lot of household works. And most parents are eager to get their daughters married off at a young age because they believe having menstruating girls in the home for long is a sin,” says Jamila.
But Khan says more than the superstition, it was the poverty which is driving many Muslim families to the menace.
According to the police, the bridegrooms come from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Sudan and Somalia to Hyderabad in search of girls.
They usually come to Hyderabad on visitor’s visa or sometimes on medical grounds. “They have local contacts to help them arrange visas and hotel stay,” the DCP said.
Not all of them are rich. Many of them are actually from lower middle class, who thrive on the royalty paid to them by their governments in lieu of the land taken for oil exploration.
With the Arab Sheiks evincing interest in “purchasing” the child brides, it has become a virtual trade and has witnessed emergence of marriage brokers, who exploit the poverty of the Muslims having many female children and make a quick buck by arranging Nikha of young girls with ageing Sheiks.
These Sheiks pay handsome money to the families — from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh, apart from good clothes, gold and sometimes even houses. The bounty is shared by the families, marriage brokers and Qazis.
“In most of the cases, the amount the bride’s family ultimately gets is very meager, but they are happy with that as they don’t have to spend anything on the marriage,” Jamila said.
“In a way, it is a legalised prostitution,” observed Ayub Ali Khan.
Take for instance, the case of Waseem, now 27, who got married to a 70-year-old Dubai Sheik when she was 12-year old. “I had no idea about Nikah, leave alone physical pleasures. But I was forced to sleep with him just for a week and I became pregnant. Thereafter, he left for Dubai for good and never came back. I gave birth to his daughter. To eke out livelihood, I am learning tailoring and zari work,” Waseem said.
Same is the case with Muneera Fathima,18, of Mangalghat area. Her step father got her married to a 75-year-old Omani national in 2011. “That man spent two months with me at a resort, far away from my house. He used to torture me for sex every day. After I became pregnant, he quietly left for his country with all the marriage papers. From there, he uttered triple talaq over phone,” she said.
The NGOs are now focusing on the education of the girl child, while police are trying to break the broker-Qazi-Arab nexus to bust the bride selling racket.
Courtesy: Hindustan Times, Hyderabad