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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Social problems of urban life

By M H Lakdawala

The Milli Gazette Online

Mumbai: For Zeenat, the first week of March was one of the happiest of her life. Her parents had finally given in to her wish to marry Safi Baig, a software engineer based in Pune with whom she made her first contact in a chat room on the Internet six months ago.

As preparations for the big day got underway and Safi’s family members came to Mumbai from Pune, Zeenat’s father was troubled by a nagging doubt that all was not as it appeared. Acting upon the advice of a friend, he hired the services of a detective agency to conduct a surreptitious inquiry into Safi’s background. A week later, Zeenat’s joyous life came crashing down like a sand castle when it came to light that Safi was employed in a restaurant, and had a live-in relationship with a colleague.

"I would say that about 15 per cent of the marriage proposals that come through from outstation grooms are of a suspicious nature," says Col (retd) Yashpal Mittoo of Aces India, a detective agency that specializes in tracking down antecedents. This is especially true of marriages, which are fixed without the help of a person known to both parties, as through classified advertisements or the Internet.

"Most of such marriages are fixed in a hurry because the groom can come to the city only for a few days only on leave and a lot of trust is placed on the spoken word. It is only later that the truth is revealed, but then it may be too late," says Col (retd) Vijay Kumar Bhalla of the Globe Detective Agency.

"The kind of cases we get are time-bound and our primary objective is to find out if the person under investigation has secured business, is really working in the company he claims to be, is earning well and is not already married or having an affair. Then there are other inquiries such as whether he is religious or is fond of alcohol," reveals Col Mittoo.

Marriages are known to have gone sour where a girl has taken her own decision or the parents have been too gullible. Thus parents of the girl are vulnerable when faced with making inquiries about the prospective bridegroom. 

Most of the broken engagements are over hidden or false information provided by the parents of the boy. In India odds are heavily loaded against the parents of the girl. The boy’s family considers a thorough inquiry as an insult. Information is always tough to come by. 

Many a times even the close relatives do not reveal information about the boy’s family. The avenues for making inquiries are very few and quite often unreliable. Sazia Shaikh who was engaged to Zubair in February is now down with a severe depression at the age of 18. In May Sazia’s family broke her engagement as it was discovered that Zubair was in a steady relationship and was a drinker.

When Sazia’s father called up Zubair to inquire about the information about his affair he accepted the fact and said, "his parents forced him to agree to the engagement with Sazia in spite of the fact that he wanted to marry his girlfriend and his parents knew about it".

The trauma for Sazia and her family does not end with the broken engagement. In such cases the boy’sfamily goes on a propaganda spree that it is they who have broken the engagement and cast aspersion on the girl’sfamily.
In urban areas where the community system is absent there are no avenues where a girl’s family can inquire about the credentials of the boy. Even friends and relatives refuse to come up with any information as they do not want to be blamed if anything goes wrong with the marriage at a latter stage. The only alternative open is to depend upon the information provided by the boy’s family.

The situation is worst in the lower middle class and in slums. In many cases the decisions are taken purely on face value of the information provided by the boy’s family and quite often it’s proved wrong and ruins the life of the girls. There are cases where decisions were taken in 24 hours and marriage within a week.

According to a police sub inspector attached to the social service branch of the Mumbai Police such marriage in haste lands girls in trouble. "There are cases where girls were forced into prostitution or made to work as a bar girl. In other cases the boy disappears after a couple of months leaving the pregnant wife and when we investigate the address given about the native place proves to be a factitious," he said.

There are cases when even after the information was verified it proved to be wrong. Aliya was married to Javeed Ahmed who claimed that he had a readymade garment factory and a flat of his own. But after marriage Aliya discovered that Javeed was merely an employee in a factory and the flat was on lease.

Neither society, nor law enforcing agencies have any provision to deal with such instances. The least that could be done is that social organizations take up this issue and help the girl’s parent in verifying the information given by the boy’s family. It’s not something, which the social organization cannot do.

These social and welfare organizations when they have distributed a couple of thousand rupees as an education, social or health aid they cross check the credential of the applicant. Why not use this network to verify the credential of the prospective bridegroom so that the future of Muslim girls is secure.

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