Buoyed by the Supreme Court’s judgment on instant triple talaq and the amount of goodwill it generated for the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) is mulling to bring in a law to regulate Arab marriages, a vexed problem for poverty ridden Muslim girls in Hyderabad.
There have been reports of several cases of older Arab men marrying Hyderabad’s young Muslim girls, both minors and majors, and this has become a burning problem for the minority community in the city. After detection of two cases within three days of Arabs sheikhs from Saudi Arabia and Dubai illegally marrying Hyderabad’s Old City Muslim girls, the TRS government has decided to bring in an ordinance to deal with the social evil.
Sources close to the Chief Minister told The Sunday Guardian that the government would promulgate an ordinance in the next few days, after a draft of it is vetted by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). On seeing the positive impact of the SC’s verdict annulling instant triple talaq on Wednesday, KCR has asked the law department to draft a Bill to deal with these Arab marriages.
Hyderabad is a hunting ground for Arab sheikhs who want to marry very young Muslim girls in the name of nikah, but abandon them in no time or take them abroad and use them as slaves and divorce them after some years. Poverty-ridden Muslim families in the Old City are the target of these sheikhs who mostly come here on tourist visas. Hyderabad police arrested two Arabs—Saleem Obaid, 56, and Ibraheem Obaid, 50—on 22-23 August for illegally marrying two girls from the Old City. In the first case, Saleem Obaid paid Rs 60,000 to a marriage broker, who in turn paid Rs 30,000 to the bride’s father and in the next case, Ibraheem Obaid paid Rs 70,000 to the broker who passed on Rs 40,000 to the girl’s family.
These two sheikhs and two more local brokers are in the custody of Shamshabad police. Shamshabad DCP Padmaja told this newspaper that the cops are on the hunt for some more brokers and sheikhs who are in the city waiting to get married to young girls. Hyderabad is not new to these Arab marriages where 60-year-old or sometimes 70-year-old men marry local girls in the age group of 14 to 20 years. There are dozens of marriage brokers catering to the needs of these Arabs. The younger the girls, more the money the sheikhs prefer to shell out.
“These Arab marriages temporarily serve a twin purpose, easing the fathers’ burden of marrying off their daughters at the earliest and solving their financial problems to some extent. But, in most cases, these marriages are failed as the girls are either left back in the city after the sheikhs return to their countries or sent back from abroad after some years,” TRS MLC Mohammad Saleem said.
The All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) MLC Sayed Amin Jafrey, too, voiced concern over the fate of abandoned Muslim brides married off to Arabs. “The poverty of families, greed of brokers and absence of laws to govern the Arab marriages, are the causes of the problem. As a majority of Arab weddings fail very soon, the families’ troubles are far from over,” he said. Welcoming the Supreme Court suggestion that the Centre should bring a law within six months on the triple talaq issue, Jafrey, a key member of AIMIM’s think tank, has also appreciated CM KCR’s decision to enact a law to regulate Arab marriages in Hyderabad. Jilani Bano, a women’s rights activist from the Old City, too, lauded the initiative.
The City Civil Courts complex at Nampally in the Old City usually sees many Muslim women affected by marriages to sheikhs. Some are divorced while several others are not even properly divorced. They are just left behind by the Arabs. “It’s difficult to trace the Arabs and issue notices to them and get some sort of financial relief to the victim women,” said Bano. According to sources, the proposed ordinance of the Telangana government intends to deal with Arab marriages at different stages. First, only Arabs who visit the city on marriage visas or with specific mention that they have come here for the purpose of marriage would be allowed to marry. Next, there shall not be an age gap of over 10 years between the bride and the groom. Now it is over 40-50 years. Another important provision is compulsory registration of all marriages with foreigners. Though there is a law in the combined Andhra Pradesh that all marriages should be registered with the sub-registrars, not many are following the norm. The impending ordinance makes mandatory that Muslim girls’ marriages should be performed and registered by Kazis recognised by the Wakf Board. Though there were demands from some Muslim women groups to regulate Arab marriages, successive governments were afraid of backlash from the “hardcore men”. Even the TRS government, too, was wary of AIMIM’s opposition to any measure to regulate Arab marriages.
There has been an outpour of support to the apex court’s move and hundreds of Muslim women came out openly and displayed placards welcoming the judgment. AIMIM president and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi may have officially denied that he was under pressure from Muslim women to welcome the judgment, but he is definitely aware of the jubilant mood among Muslim women in the city. Owaisi argued that the number of divorces through triple talaqs in Hyderabad was minuscule, or may be less than 100 every year, but the social unrest and the destabilisation caused by instant divorces are immense in Muslim society, said Fatima Begum, who works with COVA, an NGO in the Old City of Hyderabad.