Poor Muslim girls are being sold off in the name of marriage to wealthy and aged Arab Sheikhs in Hyderabad.
Last Monday, a 17-year-old girl approached the police when her parents tried to marry her off for the sixth time.
The girl, the third daughter of a paan shop owner, Mohammed Akbar, 52, from Hafeezbabanagar escaped with the help of an NGO when she was being taken in an auto to meet the prospective groom — a 50-year-old Sudanese man — at a city hotel.
In her police complaint, she accused her parents of selling her off in the name of marriage six times in the past two years. Her father, his third wife and the Sudanese national has been arrested.
"We are trying to identify the kazi and the brokers who fixed the wedding," ACP Sai Krishna of Santoshnagar police station said.
In 1992, the menace came to light when an air hostess rescued a 12-year-old girl, who was being forcibly married off, from Hyderabad-Mumbai flight.
But more than 20 years later, the problem persists. It has now spread its tentacles to Muslim-dominated towns in Kerala and Karnataka where it is referred to as "Arabi kalyanam", "Mysore kalyanam" or "Male kalyanam". In Hyderabad it is known as 'Arab nikah' where minor girls are married off in exchange of money. These marriages last for a few days to a couple of months after which the bride is divorced.
The police said Akbar with help from his third wife Niloufer and broker Rehana married off the girl six times in a row since 2012. She was first sold to one Basheer from Nagpur for Rs30,000. A few months later Basheer divorced her and she was married off to an NRI, Jamal, in Pune for Rs30,000. She was married off to Saudi Sheikhs for the third and fourth time. Her parents received something between Rs50,000 and Rs1 lakh in 2013.
The Sheikhs, said the girl in her complaint, held her captive for three months. She was never allowed to go anywhere without a guard or an escort.
Her fifth marriage was with a Bahrain national in Hyderabad for Rs1 lakh a few months ago. On January 14 this year, her father fixed her sixth marriage with a 50-year-old Sudanese national, Mannan, for Rs1 lakh.
She escaped while on her way to a hotel to meet the man. She then approached the police through an NGO. The girl has studied till the 10th after which her parents started marrying her off. "They splurged the money on luxury goods and also to clear their loans," the girl said in her complaint. "My father who has four wives recently sold off my two sisters (daughters of his second wife) in a similar way."
At times, instead of money, the Sheikhs offer visas for the bride's brothers or other family members, the police said.
Mazhar Hussain, director of COVA, an NGO, said these are cases of human trafficking rather than marriages for money.
In 1988, the police detected 1,500 such cases and arrested 25 kazis. In 2011 and 2012, the police busted rackets involving Afghan, Sudan, Nigerian and Pakistani nationals.
Police say none of the men want to spend the rest of their lives with these girls. "They just want to have fun while they stay here," an officer said.
In such marriages, the girls are made to sign blank bond papers that are later used for divorce proceedings.
The Wakf board says such marriages are un-Islamic. But some kazis bend the rules in exchange of money. And the board can do little. In 2004, the board issued a set of guidelines asking kazis not to perform such marriages where there is a huge age gap between the groom and the bride.