Forced Marriages in South Asia: Myth or Reality?
By Riaz Haq
There are frequent accusations of forced marriages in India and Pakistan which are regularly reported in the mass media. These reports elicit a strong emotional response from the society at large. Many such cases end up in violence with families taking the law in their own hands. A few of these cases end up in courts with the judges deciding the fate of such marriages. Let's examine the reality of "forced marriages" in South Asia.
Interfaith Marriages:Charges of forced marriages are usually leveled mostly against interfaith or inter-caste marriages, particularly when such unions occur without the agreement of the parents on one or both sides.
Accusations of forced marriages are rare for same-faith and same-caste marriages arranged by the parents on both sides, even when these marriages take place without the consent of the bride and the groom.
Court Case in India:A recent Kerala case involved a Muslim man Shafin Jahan and a Hindu woman Akhila Ashokan. The two met as fellow students studying medicine in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, and fell in love, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper.
Akhila Ashokan, who prefers to be known as Hadiya, converted to Islam from Hinduism after meeting Shafin, and they married in December 2016. Upon hearing of the union, her "livid father went to the Kerala high court demanding that Hadiya be returned to his custody", according to The Guardian. Contrary to Hadiya's express wish to stay in her marriage to Shafin, the court nullified the wedding and forcibly sent her back to her parents' home in Kottayam. When Shafin challenged it in the Indian Supreme Court, the nation's top court upheld the lower court's decision.
Court Case in Pakistan:An interfaith marriage between a Pakistani Hindu woman Anoshi and a Muslim man Bilawal Ali Bhutto was challenged in Islamabad High Court by the bride's father Anand Lal. Lal's lawyer contended that Anoshi had been kidnapped by Bilawal who forcibly converted her to Islam and married her, according to the Daily Times newspaper.
Anoshi told the court that she converted to Islam by choice. She took the Muslim name Maria and insisted that no one forced her to change her religion. The court directed a 40-minute meeting of Anoshi with her parents and her family in the office of Justice Shaukat Siddiqui where she maintained that her decisions to convert to Islam and marry Bilawal was done of her own free will. The court then allowed Anoshi to go with Bilawal and ordered police protection for the couple.
Earlier in 2012, similar charges of forced marriages were dismissed when Faryal (Rinkle Kumari), Hafsa Bibi (Dr Lata) and Haleema Bibi (Asha Kumari) told Pakistan Supreme Court that they wanted to live with their husbands who they said they chose to marry of their free will.
Summary:Young men and women in India and Pakistan who dare to go against the wishes of their parents to marry outside their faith, tribe or caste face the wrath of their near and dear ones. The most common accusations leveled in such cases are those of "kidnapping" and "forced marriage". Such accusations then become fodder of the mainstream media where they are repeated ad infinitum without verification. Some of these cases end up in court where the outcome depends on the judges’ own prejudices without regard to the right to freely choose marriage partners. The Indian Supreme Court's recent judgement forcing the separation of Hadiya and Shafin amply illustrates the injustice in such cases.