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‘Arab wedding’ brings to focus vulnerability of poor women

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The latest incident of forced marriage of a minor Muslim girl to an Arab national has once again brought to focus vulnerability of women from poorer sections who continue to be victims of sexual exploitation. The infamous “Arabbi kalyanam” ( Arab wedding), a social malady prevalent in parts of Kerala, has stirred a raging debate over the evil practice, which has devastated the lives of young girls in the wake of recent episode in which a 17-year-old girl from Kozhikode, living in orphanage, was forced into marriage with an Arab national. The Ras al-Khaiamh (UAE) resident Jasim Mohammed Abdul Kareem, after spending two weeks with the girl, returned home and pronounced “talaq” over phone.

Despite universal education and commendable social sector indices, women from underprivileged sections in Kerala still appear to be victims of circumstances beyond their control. Decades-long awareness campaigns and grass root actions, financially backward minor girls not only from the Muslim community but also from vulnerable sections like tribals are still victimised in the name of “cross-border weddings”, in which they are married off to those coming from abroad or other states without their consent.

The menace, known under different names like “Arabi kalyanam”, “Mysore kalyanam” or “Male kalyanam” in local parlance, based the place from where the groom comes, had been widely prevalent in places like Kozhikode, Malappuram, Kannur, Kasaragod and even in state capital Thiruvananthapuram. Poverty-stricken parents, who could not meet the hefty dowry demanded by local youths, were often used to be trapped by “visiting grooms” with the support of local marriage brokers and, in many cases, community elders.

Initially, the brides are heaped with costly gifts like gorgeous apparels and gold ornaments and cash to lure their parents to force their daughters into marriage. After the wedding ceremony, they are taken to honeymoon trips for a few days and even for weeks, after which the groom would leave for their home abandoning the teenage brides to life-long misery and tears.

The widely condemned social evil, believed to have been ended after the grass root level intervention of progressive community leaders and NGOs, surfaced again with the recent case in Kozhikode.

Ironically in this case, the groom himself is the son of a UAE national who married a local woman, who later got divorced and got wedded to a Keralite with whom she is living. This came to light and sparked public outrage, after the victim and her mother came out against the orphanage where she was living alleging its authorities took the initiative for the marriage. Refuting the charge, the orphanage management held that the wedding was performed with the consent of the girl and her family, and the marriage of 17-year-old Muslim girls was legally permissible as per a circular issued by the social welfare department in the state, though it had been put on hold later following wide protests.

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