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Under-21 brides being rushed into nikahs in Telangana up 3 times since marriage age bill

Hyderabad: Eighteen-year-old Najma was about to get married sometime later this year — the family was waiting for her to complete her graduation and then plan a grand event once the raging pandemic situation abated. Everything changed in the last week of December, when Najma’s nikah (wedding) was decided overnight and she was married off the next day, on 26 December.

“Najma was given an hour to shop for the wedding and choose her outfit. Her ‘rishta’ was decided a few months ago and she was engaged, but the wedding was supposed to happen sometime later this year,” her 16-year old cousin Alifa told ThePrint.

These ‘rush’ nikahs such as that of Najma are a direct fall-out of the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on 21 December 2021. The bill seeks to raise the marriageable age of women to 21 years, making it uniform for men and women. 

As the contents of the bill became known, panic spread amongst the Muslim community, and hurriedly organised marriages spiralled — twice as many as in normal times.

In the narrow bylanes of Hyderabad’s old city lies the Talab Katta locality. One of the clustered houses belongs to 45-year-old auto-driver Hassan. His 19-year-old daughter is in Class 12, or the Intermediate final year according to the Telangana Education Board — a step before entering college. 

Like many parents, Hassan also planned to arrange his daughter’s marriage next year after her Intermediate final exams. And, like many other girls from the area, his 19-year old daughter (who wished to be unnamed) was married in a hurry on 3 January.

“We know the boy’s family — they’re our relatives. I thought this is the best thing to do, I cannot wait for her to be 21 years old. I have three more daughters and I am the only bread-winner of the family. How long can I keep supporting them? It is easy to preach, asking us to wait till 21 years, but you give me a solution. Unless she gets married, I cannot think of the next girl’s marriage,” Hassan told ThePrint.

The nikah, like Najma’s, was simple — attended by the bride and groom, their parents and a Qazi to perform the ceremony.

Also read: Haryana Khaps angry at new marriage age and ‘runaway girls’, Mewat says 3 yrs is like 100

Marriage applications shot up

Telangana State Waqf Board which, under their Qazath (records) section, issues marriage certificates to members of the Muslim community, received ‘thousands’ of applications seeking such certificates in the last two weeks.

“We usually receive around 100-150 applications a day from candidates seeking marriage certificates. In the last two weeks, it shot up to 300 a day, ever since discussion of this marriage law came up. It touched thousands in two weeks, but now the situation is a bit better,” Mohammed Saleem, Telangana Rashtra Samithi MLC and Telangana Waqf Board chairman, told ThePrint.

The Waqf Board also held a meeting Tuesday with Qazis from across the state to understand the situation and allay fears of concerned people. Saleem told the Qazis to counsel the families rushing into nikahs, and tell them that the bill has to be passed and implemented. 

“It is still a bill and has to be passed in the House. I had told the Qazis the same thing and asked them to counsel families. We are also planning to get Imams to make announcements at Friday prayers about the same, asking people to not panic. Every Muslim attends Friday prayers, so we hope it will have a better reach,” Saleem said.

He also added that these ‘rush’ nikahs are not just limited to Hyderabad, but have been going on across the state. The Waqf Board is also planning to draw the attention of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao to the issue, pointing out the consequences of the bill.

Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi also opposed the bill when it was introduced, saying it was a “retrogressive amendment”.

“It’s against the right to freedom under Article 19. An 18-year-old can choose a prime minister, can have a live-in relationship, can have a sexual relationship under POSCO, but you are denying right to marriage. What have you done for an 18-yr-old? Women’s labour force participation in India is lower than Somalia. Your Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (programme’s) 89 per cent funds were used for Modi’s publicity,” Owaisi had said on 21 December. 

‘Phone didn’t stop ringing’

According to Saleem, Telangana has around 200 government-appointed Qazis who are authorised to perform weddings. Since each such Qazi has a large area under his jurisdiction, he appoints a few more naib Qazis (assistants) who work under and report to him.

Khader Pasha is a government-appointed Qazi under whom seven other Qazis work. Over the last two weeks, he says each of his team members performed around 20 nikhas a day. Normally, they perform around eight to 10 nikahs a day.

“My phone did not stop ringing. Families kept calling me, asking for a Qazi for a wedding,” Khader Pasha told ThePrint. 

“There were a few families where the girl was just 17, a few months short of turning 18, and still they wanted her to get married. I refused, saying that is illegal. I am also told that one of the Qazis in the city had a queue outside his house,” he added.

“All the ceremonies and traditions are kept on hold. Even during the nikah there are some traditions that the families have to perform. All that is not being done. The families call us in the morning, asking us to come to their homes in the evening and a very simple nikah is done. All other ceremonies are kept for later. Even the rukhsati or the vidaai, a ceremonial send-off for the girl, is done later. The girls remain at their homes after the nikah, the families just want the marriage to be done,” Pasha said.

“It’s like every lane has these panic marriages going on. We have come across many such Nikahs over the last week,” Sohail Ahmed, 22, a resident of the older part of Hyderabad, told ThePrint.

‘Doesn’t consider ground reality’

Activist Khalida Parveen, who runs the NGO Amoomat Society in Hyderabad, raised an objection to the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, terming it a basic human rights violation that does not consider the ground reality in economically weaker sections.

“It is easy for middle class and elite families to educate their girls and postpone marriage for a few years. That’s not the situation in economically weaker sections. The social conditioning is different, women still have to fight for education, to probably work somewhere. There are lakhs of families where the challenge is to get three meals a day and they cannot afford education. In rural areas, it is even worse. Primary schools do not have proper toilets, getting girls to schools is a challenge there,” Parveen told ThePrint.

Parveen said she is helping 10 such girls from poor families who are working in her organisation complete school till class 10.

“They’re so poor that their families cannot even afford an auto ride to the examination centre. Now, if these students ask for the fare, the fathers will ask them to sit at home. So I decided to help,” she said.

“The families mostly try to get them married as soon as they turn 18. In such a situation, this bill is nothing but not understanding the challenges on the ground and just loosely introducing it with no sensitivity,” Parveen added.

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)

Also read: Modi govt introduces bill to increase women’s marriage age to 21 years in Lok Sabha

Source: The Print

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