Kunhamina has no identity of her own. “Take a taxi to Kuttikattoor
and ask for the ‘Arabian bride’ Kunhamina. She is famous
there because of her ludicrous marriage. And no need of a postal address
or phone number,” advises a senior special branch police officer
attached to the City Police Commissioner Office in Kozhikode.
Kunhamina wants her stateless children to get Indian
From Malappuram to
Kasargod along the Malabar coast, poor girls are married to Arabs
for a paltry sum as meher
about 20 km from Kozhikode city, Faizal Abdulla Quid Ahmed and Ahmed
Abdulla Quid Ahmed refuse to be photographed. “Policemen regularly
come knocking on our door, threatening us with deportation. My mother
has been running from pillar to post for the last 14 years, trying to
get citizenship for my younger brother and me. No photographs please
as they mean nothing but further humiliation,” says 21-year-old
Faizal, an engineering graduate.
a slightly different view. “I will continue to strive for Indian
citizenship for both of my children. They have no place to dwell other
than India. You take any number of my photographs if they can ensure
citizenship for my children,” she says.
husband Abdulla Quid Ahmed, a Yemeni national, is an exception among
the hundreds of aged Arab men who come to Kerala every year and marry
poor Muslim women of the region. He spends about six months each year
in Kuttikattoor with his Indian wife and children, and supports them
financially. Kunhamina is very worried that her two teenaged sons are
neither citizens of India nor Yemen.
The problem began
when Ahmed, who was 60 when he married for the third time, took his
16-year-old Indian bride to Sharajah where he worked in a private firm.
Kunhamina returned to India with her children years later. Now, however,
the three feel extremely insecure as they have no ration card, no passport
and no official permission to undertake any job. They have to renew
their temporary permission to stay here annually for a fee of Rs 1,400.
Two of Subaida’s
three daughters face the same problem. Subaida, who lives in Vattakundu
near Pallikandy, however has no husband to turn to for moral and monetary
support. In 1987, when she was twenty-four, she was married off to Haji
Farooqui, a 60-year-old Iranian and went to live with him in Dubai.
Subaida returned to India with her three children nine years ago. There
has been no word from her husband for the last five years, and she is
not waiting anymore.
Her children Fathima
and Azna, who do not have Indian citizenship, are facing deportation.
After many years of representation to various governmental agencies,
she has lost all hope. “As a last resort, I met Chief Minister
VS Achuthanandan last week and pleaded for his intervention. He promised
maximum efforts on the part of state government to persuade an otherwise
unwilling Union Government,” she said. “Since a large number
of children of Arab marriages were born in Middle East and came here
with their Indian mothers, they do not have the citizenship in either
country and face deportation, when they become adults,” points
out VP Suhra, president of nisa, a voluntary agency that works with
Muslim women in Kozhikode.
In fact, the issue
of citizenship is just the tip of the iceberg. Married and cast away
shortly after honeymoon by their Arab husbands, hundreds of poor Muslim
women in the northern coastal districts of Kerala are cursing their
fate. “Arab marriages are taking place clandestinely in north
Kerala even now, though there is widespread propaganda that they are
not taking place in this literate and progressive state. Barely an year
ago the Kozhikode police arrested two Arabs on charges of marrying teenage
girls and sexually abusing them,” says a top police official who
wishes to remain anonymous.
From Kasargod to
Ponnani in Malappuram district, poor girls along the coast have always
been married to Arabs in return of meher worth a few hundred rupees.
Such marriages are rampant in Kozhikode, especially in Kuttichira, Mughadar,
Pallikandi, Kampuram and Kappakkal — places where slums dot beaches,
the men-folk are usually fishermen or timber workers, and women work
as housemaids in city homes.
K. Shuhaib, a social
activist in Kuttichira, introduces us to Ayesha, who at 34 has already
been married four times. None but one lasted beyond 60 days. She fails
to recollect her second husband’s name. She has two children,
fathered by two of her former husbands.
Fathima alias Arakkal
Pathu of Chappayil has a similar tale of woe. Forty-five-year-old Mohammed
from Qatar married her when she was only 12, and abandoned her and their
son three years later. She married a Saudi Arabian national later and
he too left her without even waiting for the birth of her second son.
“I have never
seen my father. I have no clue about his whereabouts. Even the name
and address he gave to my mother’s family were fake,” says
Pathus’s second son Abubacker, a headload worker. Pathu is fortunate
in that she has only two children to take care of. Other women in a
similar situation often have to raise many children fathered by different
men. As per rough estimates, there are more than 900 such forgotten
children whose fathers came from across the sea, in Kuttichira alone.
TT Bhathimayyi of Thangal’s Road recalls that her father got Rs
200 as meher when she was married off to the Bahraini national Badre
Mohammed Ahmed Rasheed 52 years ago. No communication was possible,
as her husband only knew Arabic and she Malayalam. They lived as man
and wife for three months. Her son Mohammed Mustafa now works in Bahrain
after he obtained his citizenship there with the help of his step-brothers.
About 15 years
ago, Subaida of Mughadar came to know of the death of her Iranian husband
Hussain Mohammed in a shipwreck near the African coast. She was six
months pregnant when Hussain had abandoned her. Now, she lives with
her two daughters and a son. “Now, I am struggling hard to forget
the bitter experiences of the past,” she says.
Yusuf Mubaraq, has done nothing for us. But his three sons in Oman helped
us a lot financially after his death. However the extreme humiliation
and neglect by the society had already crippled my ambition to excel
in life,” says Ramla, daughter of Amina of Kozhikode South Beach.
A school dropout, Ramla is now working as a housemaid to look after
her 13-year-old daughter. Like her overseas father, Ramla’s Indian
husband divorced her without any reason some years ago.
There are scores
and scores of such ‘Arabian brides’ in the densely populated,
poverty ridden coastal area; the story of Aminas, Suharas, Subaidas
and Bhathimayis is repeated over and over again.
Now things are
done secretly. The secrecy is the result of a number of arrests since
1985. The people living in the coastal belt know marriages take place,
but will not tell you where, when, how or who is getting married. The
logic is simple: “It is poverty that makes these girls get into
such marriages. Sometimes a kindly Arab might look after the girl for
a lifetime. Why prevent that?”
The social reason
behind these ‘sales’ is directly linked to the dowry system.
The girl’s family has to shell out a huge dowry in cash and gold
in Muslim marriages. Girls who get married to aged Arabs come from poor
families. And the meher Arabs give, which could be as little as Rs 3,000,
is a boon to the family. The sanction by the clergy is another cause
why the practice continues. The male-dominated clergy is least bothered
about the poor women and their unfortunate children. All this, coupled
with general lack of education and awareness, has made intervention
by social organisations difficult. “If anything worthwhile is
to be done, poverty should be wiped out. There can be no cosmetic changes,”
Fearing the clergy’s
wrath, no political party in Kerala is taking up the issue. When the
National Women’s Commission organised separate sittings on Arab
marriages in Kozhikode and Malappuram last year, the State Women’s
Commission — comprising nominees of the previous Oommen Chandy
government — decided not to cooperate with it. The body has come
under sharp criticism by women’s groups. Suhra is demanding a
multi-pronged approach by the government and the civil society to address