Every year roughly 300 older Arab men come to Hyderabad; some as tourists, some to make use of the medical facilities in the city. And some to find a nubile “temporary wife”. With no strict law enforcement, the problem of contract marriages of young Muslim girls to wealthy Arab men looking for amusement continues to leave many temporary brides in a permanent hell. Usha Raman reports on the problem.
In 1992, an 11-year-old girl was spotted on a flight to the Gulf, sitting by an elderly man who could have been her grandfather — but turned out to be her husband. An airhostess on the plane "rescued" her and brought her back home to Hyderabad. The "contract marriage" was brought to an end before it could damage the life of Ameena.
The story of Ameena rocked the city and much of the nation for months, with attention focused on the sale of young girls from poor Muslim families to aged Arab men. Activism flared, campaigns were conducted, root causes investigated...and the issue soon faded from public view. Until May 24, 2004, when Haseena(19) showed up at a police station in the old city of Hyderabad. Haseena alleged that she had been "bought" by 73-year-old Mohammed Jaffer Yakub Hasan Al Jorani from Sharjah and deserted within two days of marriage — a marriage that had been solemnised by a recognised Muslim cleric.
Police investigations revealed that Jorani, who was in Hyderabad for an eye surgery, already had two wives and 11 children in Sharjah. He had negotiated the marriage with Haseena’s parents through a broker for Rs 40,000. He returned two days later, offering her parents a fourth of that sum for a divorce. Soon after, he contracted a "marriage" with the parents of another girl, Rukhsana(14).
In a swift move, the police and the Muslim clergy stepped in. The Hyderabad police arrested Jorani and the broker, Shamsuddin, and began to unravel the links that make the contract marriage business thrive in Hyderabad. The qazi (cleric) who drew up the nikahnama or marriage contract was also taken into custody, and his profitable "guest house" for Arabs uncovered.
Haseena and Rukhsana may not typify the situation of young Muslim girls in the old city of Hyderabad, but their experience indicates that the problem of contract marriages to wealthy Arab men looking for temporary amusement has not disappeared.
Prajwala, an NGO that works against the trafficking of women, has found that every month, nearly 35 such marriages take place in Hyderabad. "We’ve identified at least 75 families that have married off their daughters to Arabs for a price," says Deepa of Prajwala. "And less than one-fifth of them actually hear from their daughters later and know that they are okay."
Take the case of Abbasi(14), who was forced by her parents to agree to a marriage by saying "hukum" (I agree) over the telephone. "I cried a lot, but no one listened to me...this man looked like my grandfather, and they told me he was my husband." Abbasi was later rescued by Prajwala, but not before "something bad" had happened to her. She indicated that she had been drugged and raped, before being taken out of the city.
Getting a divorce is just as easy as entering into the marriage contract.
"These girls are usually illiterate, and so are their parents. They do not know what they are signing," explains Nur Jehan, from the Confederation of Voluntary Agencies (COVA), a Hyderabad-based NGO.
Prajwala has found that many of the girls are sold into prostitution after their husbands have left, or are used as domestic workers once they reach the Gulf.
"It’s only a symptom of a bigger problem," says Nur Jehan. "These are poor families, who cannot afford the large dowries demanded, and who are afraid that their daughters may remain unmarried otherwise."
Ahmed Sharief, the qazi who performed the nikah of Jorani and Haseena, was arrested, and it was only then that the Wakf Board publicly went on record to say that "strong action" should be taken to prevent such incidents.
The Wakf Board has now set up a special cell to monitor such marriages, especially when they involve foreign nationals. Some Gulf countries, such as Oman and Saudi Arabia, have made it mandatory for their citizens to obtain a licence to marry outside the country. "But we have found that Oman, for instance, only issues these licences to men above the age of 60" notes Deepa of Prajwala. "This is why it is easier for the older men to come here and get these young girls." — WFS
Fashion is 99 per cent research and 1 per cent creativity, asserts Harleen Sabharwal, the only trendforecaster in Mumbai and one of the two in the country. Conceptualising colour and styling trends for the first time in India through the Raymonds’ Park Avenue collection from 1998 to 2003, it has taken this gritty 30-something more than a decade to gain recognition in the industry, which has no qualms about counting on western trendforecasters.
Though armed with a fashion designing course in 1989, she opted to take up trendforecasting after attending a course in fashion research and presentation at NIFT under Italian designer Romeo Gigli. Gigli’s assistant and tutor at the course, who was still pursuing PhD in psychology in fashion, left an indelible mark on her and made her pick up a stream that was then virtually untouched in India. "I had to salute her, as in India designers were launching themselves after just a one-year course in fashion designing from NIFT or abroad. It was a little unsettling to realise how shallow our so-called glamour industry was. JournaIists at that point too were talking fashion with no fashion background. In most advance countries, you have to do a course in fashion journalism before you begin to write fashion. The public or consumer had no choice but to believe the written word. Disenchanted with the fashion scene, I decided not be a designer but a trendforecaster."
This Mumbai-based girl, who belongs to a business family settled in Chandigarh, has made some winning trend predictions over the last couple of years. She anticipated the polynosic fabric in ’97, iridescent look in ’98, grey as the colour of the millennium ’99/2000, diagonals in ’01, purple colour for men ’01, and multicoloured stripes in ’02.
To calculate trends, Harleen carries out research and studies psychological, sociological, and cultural, political and environmental issues. She also factors in the latest music, magazines, advertising and lifestyle issues.
Market research and constant growth and metamorphosis of the industry is the only thing that will allow the Indian fashion industry to be in sync with the international fashion industry, says Harleen, who believes that fashion is an emotional business that requires fast thinking and movement.
Harleen’s seminar at Lakme India Fashion Week spoke of trendforecasting depending on direct observation and intuition about events in the socio-cultural landscape. "Today, styles are changing rapidly to meet the hunger for anything new."
A firm supporter of
fashion for the middle class, Harleen believes that fashion in India
will only make sense if designers cater to the middle class, which holds
the majority of the Indians. "The rich elite constitute of only 3
per cent of the entire country’s population, hence the magnetic pull
of designers towards trousseau wear."
The future lies in specialisation,
declares Harleen, even as she looks forward to conducting workshops in
fashion schools to spread the thought that trendforecasting goes beyond
just colour, fabric and styling.
It is the kind of birthday gift that very few teenagers could ever dream of getting but with the kind of grit and courage that Alka Sharma, winner of the prestigious National Bravery Award, has there could be much bigger achievements lined up for her in life. It was on her 18th birthday on June 9, while she was pestering her father to buy her a birthday gift that the letter from the Union Home Secretary, declaring Alka the recipient of "Jeevan Raksha Award" was delivered at their home. "Our happiness new no bounds as I told her that she had herself earned a gift, which no father on earth could have given to his daughter," said a proud, Mr Ramesh Chand Sharma.
Living in village
Jansool, under Nadaun sub division of Hamirpur district, the courage
that Alka showed in pulling out her friend Monica, who was being swept
away by the gushing waters of the Man Khud, probably stemmed from the
fact hers is a family of serving and retired army personnel. "I
would be the happiest if I am able to make it to the police services as
women have proved that they are much more sensitive, honest and
effective in tackling the problems of the public," says a beaming
Alka, as congratulatory messages continue to pour in.
It was on September 7,
2002, when Alka and her friend Monica were returning home from school,
that they were caught unawares by the swollen waters of the Man Khud,
which they were used to crossing every day. "Suddenly the water in
the khud rose as both of us were swept away by the force of the water.
Since I knew how to swim I managed to touch the shore but Monica was
washed away almost 50 feet down the khud," says Alka, recalling
those horrifying moments.
"I ran along the khud keeping an
eye on Monica and despite the 20 odd men standing on the side urging me
not to risk my life for saving a girl who was sure to be drowned,
something inside me egged me on save a life," she says. A feat
which few could have dared to attempt and succeed, Alka says she was
never in a dilemma about taking the plunge as all she knew was that she
had to save a life.
With a large number of malls and multiplexes coming up, the use of escalators is on the rise.
Pushpa Girimaji on how safe these are.
The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission’s order, holding the Airports Authority of India (AAI) liable for the tragic death of seven-year-old Jyotsna while coming down the escalator at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, could not have come at a more appropriate time.
I do not know how many escalators are in operation in the country today, but their number is certainly going up, particularly with the concept of large shopping malls and multiplexes catching up. And unless they are serviced and maintained with utmost care, they could well be the cause of more such tragic accidents.
In fact, escalators are safe, only so long as they are maintained with utmost regard to safety and used with care. The point comes out loud and clear in the order of the Apex Consumer Court as well as the report of the inquiry commission constituted by the Civil Aviation Ministry, following the death of Jyotsna on December 14, 1999.
Besides its failure to upgrade the 14-year-old escalator and maintain it scrupulously, the AAI did not have its staff at the escalator to switch it off in case of a calamity. Even after the little girl was sucked into the gaping hole in the escalator, the AAI did not have a proper communication system to call the necessary staff and when they did arrive, they did not show the alertness and the sensitivity required of them.
Says the committee: "The escalator had been in position for about 14 years and although the traffic during this period had increased by about 85 per cent and its intensity of use during peak hours had also increased, it was not equipped with several safety features that were provided for the later models of the equipment." The apex consumer court’s order, directing the AAI to pay the rupee equivalent of 2,50,000 French Francs, along with 10 per cent interest calculated from January 1, 2000, makes it clear that those who show such disregard to public safety will be held liable for its consequences. In fact, those that put up notices in front of the escalator saying that they are not liable for any escalator-related accident or injury should realise that such boards do not give them any protection and that there is no substitute for good maintenance and adequate precautions against accidents.
In fact, the apex consumer court has held that the absence of such an arrangement itself constitutes deficiency in service. (Geeta Jethani VS Airports Authority of India, original petition no 81 of 2001, decided on August 5, 2004).
In addition to the emergency shut off buttons at the top and bottom, the escalators should have skirt obstruction devices which sense the presence of a foreign object and automatically shut off the machine.
Similarly, each step should have painted footprints or brightly coloured borders and there should be adequate lighting at the places where one gets on and off the escalator.
Paneer has evolved from a Portuguese gift to India to becoming a gourmet’s delight, writes Pushpesh Pant.
Can you imagine life without paneer? No marriage banquet is worth its salt if the menu doesn’t have one or more paneer dish. You could begin with paneer tikka and continue with shahi paneer in white nuts — enriched gravy or enjoy the melt in mouth malai kofta and the spicy karahi paneer loabdar and paneer masala. At home, it is more common to cook matar paneer or paneer bhurji. The roadside dhaba always runs out the satin smooth, emerald hued palak paneer and the khumche wala at the Lawrence Road, Amritsar, takes justifiable pride in his paneer filled kulche as does the owner of the hole in the wall eatery in Fatehpuri in old Delhi in his chole-paneer-de-chawal.
The Kashmiris have a whole range of paneer dishes they call it chaman, methi chaman and tamatar chaman to mention just two. In Awadh, the bawarchi-rekhabdar have long relied upon the paneer to provide scrumptious fillings of the exotic dulma. In Agra, Babloo of Radheshyam paratha bhandar packs a pleasing punch in his mega paranthas with spicy paneer. The Gujarati dhokla has undergone a strange but delicious metamorphosis where a layer of paneer placed between two slices of dhokla are not quite often encountered. The Udupi maestros are never the ones to be left far behind. They have created many interesting versions of the paneer-filled dosa. Bengal may not have paneer savories but chena—a form of paneer is what makes the fabulous Bengali sweets come alive. The non-Bengali cooks dish out dainty little paneer jalebi for their up market clients.
The restaurants specialising in desi Chinese cuisines have innovatively invented sweet and sour and the chilli paneer. What makes paneer so popular is its nutritious quality and versatility. Paneer has high protein content and is low in scary fats. You can make it at home with skimmed milk. The cardiologists have assured us that while processed cheese is to be avoided like plague, there is nothing wrong with paneer in small quantities even for those worried about their heart. Paneer is available throughout the year and even a small quantity stretches a long way.
Food historians tell us that paneer came to India with the Portuguese. The far-fetched theory is based on the mistaken belief that Hindus had a superstition about not cuddling holy milk. We can only laugh at this. The Vedic Aryans literally wallowed in doodh, dahi and ghee and its difficult to imagine that they had not discovered paneer. Trendy food writers eying the global market keep comparing the native cottage cheese to the Italian ricarta but what is in a name?
During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?"
Surely this was some kind
of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall,
dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in
my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before class ended, one
student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz
"Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello".
I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.