This afternoon i was watching a news report on sahara samay about the flourishing business of “bride-trading” in hyderabad, india. Arab sheikh land in the city and during their brief stay marry local women for a certain sum of money. some take their brides with them others leave them behind never to return. the recent case involved a 19 year old girl named haseena. her family married her to a 74-year old sheikh for Rs.10,000. After 3 days the groom found her “disobedient” and sent her back home and settled for another teenager as his next wife. Haseena made quite a noise about the unceremonious dumping and the sheikh is currently languishing in a police lock-up. if not for haseena, he would have safely left the country by now.

While most of the sheikhs are well past their prime, the girls (in most cases) are in their teens. the girls are mostly from extremely poor and large families. the parents marry them to the rich sheikhs so that they can escape their current life of poverty. age is not a factor. quite a few “happy” families were also interviewed whose daughters are comfortably settled in the middle-east and help their families back home. a number of intermediaries operate to bring the sheikhs in contact with the girls’ families.

the reporter also went in search of ameena, the 11 year old child-bride who was rescued by an airhostess when she was about to be taken away by a sheikh. after 12 years, she laments that, that moment was perhaps the “worst in her life”. She and her family were dishonoured by all the attention and finally last year she was married to a 60 year old man who can’t give her the riches which an arab (and perhaps equally old)husband could. she is not the first wife of her husband who also has 3 children from his previous marriage(s). her husband considers this marriage as an act of good-deed as he has rescued her from her miseries. ameena also alleges that the funds that were pouring in at the time of her rescue had been siphoned off by the social-service organisations that had come forward to help her.

what was alarming was that a certain qazi had also been nabbed who supposedly offered “honeymoon facilites” as well in the form of a guest-house. A few important people of the community were interviewed who condemned this practice but said that the families were also to be blamed for disposing off their children without any future concern. the administration on their part claim to be helpless as most of these marriages are conducted in a clandestine manner as the families take special care to maintain secrecy. when the grooms leave the country they do not leave back any traces. if the girl is left behind then she and her parents are left to fend for themselves. in worse cases like that of 20-year old salma khatun a child might also be involved.

this vicious cycle seems to have no break. the families are large and they find it difficult to make ends meet. Education is unheard of for the girls who are nurtured uptil a “marriageable” age. the poor parents live with an illusion of changing their daughter’s (and subsequently their own)lives by waiting for an arab groom. the “grooms” come in search for their share of meat which is handed to them on a platter. the family then waits for another daughter to grow up.

this is the proposed cybercity of the future, which reminds one of ancient rural bengal when aged (and sometimes nearly dead) “kulin brahmins” were literally begged by desperate fathers to marry their adolescent daughters for fear of being rendered as social outcasts. thankfully that was stopped by the stalwarts of that era. the divide in hyderabad does not seem to have an easy solution as of now. religious bindings, poverty, lack of education, awe for the sheikhs among other things add up to force these families to commodify their children. perhaps the solution lies in awakening them to the consequences of such alliances and also to inspire them to respect their daughters individuality as a person. trapped in mirage, that is a reality that they are sadly unaware of.

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