For the first time since I met her, Nusrat (name changed) was giggling. After all, a teenager is still very much a child. She was telling me how someone who performs black magic had been brought in to make her change her mind and make her a willing bride. The 'jaadugar' (magician) had tried everything he could - read weird hymns, rubbed ash, made her drink some weird concoctions, poured oil, created smoke and dance. Yet she had remained unmoved, in fact amused. At the first chance she got after that, she ran away to the police station to tell them her story and seek protection.
Nusrat's school certificate says she is not even 16 yet. But her parents decided it is best for her to be married off, even if that was to a 44-year-old man from Sudan. He had agreed to pay a meher (bride price) of one lakh rupees at the time of the nikaah. By the time he would leave in 40 days, he had agreed to pay another one lakh rupees. They were unable to say 'no' to that.
Nusrat still can't believe her parents could do this to her. She says her family is not that poor that they need to do this. Her father dabbles in the real estate business and according to the police, also has connections with a politician from the Old City area, who is also into the media business. Nusrat has a younger sister, 12 years old and two younger brothers.
Nusrat's aunt Mumtaz Begum had brought the `proposal'. There were a couple of other middlemen. The Qazi (priest), Mohammed Naseeruddin Jehangir said he could write out the nikaahnama only if there was an age certificate to prove she was not a minor. So another person called Mohammed Fazaluallah was brought in to create documents to show she was 24.
It is not as if all this happened in the back of beyond of Hyderabad. Moghulpura where Nusrat lives, is just half a km from the Charminar monument. Moghulpura inspector Vijay Kumar explains that the `groom' is in fact an engineer from Khartoum, working for an oil company. He is married, with two children back home. He came here inspired by what his friend Ahmed Yahiya had told him - that it is possible to 'enjoy' a young, temporary wife in India, for a price.
Osama Ibrahim came to Hyderabad on February 19. Within two days, potential 'brides' were lined up for him. Nusrat was waiting along with four other girls when she became the girl Ibrahim chose. Even before she realised what was happening, Nusrat's 'kabool' had been taken.
The only reason she escaped from a 'first night' that Thursday night was because twin bomb blasts earlier that evening in Dilsukhnagar area of Hyderabad had increased police surveillance and checks. Sensing danger, the Sudanese had left early for his hotel in Banjara Hills, an upmarket area in the newer part of the city.
No one in Nusrat's joint family of 16 members objected or supported her. Her mother in fact, beat her along with the others when she refused to play wife and get locked into a room with her `husband'. It was the support of her close friends that encouraged her to run away and report to the police.
Hyderabad has been notorious as a bride bazaar for old Arab Sheikhs for over two decades now. If there was the case of the 11-year-old child bride Ameena who was rescued from her 60-year-old Arab 'husband' by an airhostess on a flight out of Hyderabad in 1991 that gained international attention, globalisation has only widened the market base now.
So people from other countries are also now coming in to exploit the vulnerabilities of poor young girls from here. The fig leaf of morality they use as a weapon, either to escape religious criticism or the law, is what they call the Islamic tradition of mut'ah or temporary marriage, because they believe sex without marriage is `haraam' or a sin.
Most `marriages' are hush-hush affairs and in only very few cases, someone decides to blow the lid. In 2004, Hyderabad was shocked by the case of the twice-married 73-year-old Mohammed Jaffer Yakub Hasan Al Jorani, a one-eyed resident of Sharjah who married not one but two women within a span of a fortnight in May that year. Jorani who had two wives and eleven children back in Sharjah, married 19-year-old Haseena Begum on May 7 and then deserted her to marry a 16-year-old girl on May 24. Haseena complained about Jorani to the police.
After Nusrat's complaint, the Sudanese, Osama Ibrahim, her father Yousuf, her aunt, the qazi and two other middlemen have been arrested. But Nusrat's story does not end there. She does not want to go back home because she doesn't feel safe. The 8th class dropout who does tailoring odd jobs says hopefully because of what she did, her younger sister would not be subjected to the same fate. She feels guilty that her action sent her father to jail. "But I never thought my parents could do this to me. I needed to do what I did." I could sense she is telling herself that as much as to me.
The qazis in Hyderabad have standing instructions from the authorities to keep their eyes and ears open and report any such matter to the police. But because they are threatened to fall in line or for a quick buck or fear of ostracisation by the community, many prefer to look the other way.
This brave young girl has shown rare courage to stand up for herself. She can be an inspiration to several others. But that is only if society and the government stand up now and support her, even after the 'sensation' of a minor's marriage farce is over. Nusrat can't be allowed to become another Ameena. Then we will be failing not just her but ourselves.
Updated Date: Mar 02, 2013 08:58 AM