MARRIAGES should unite. But these weddings have divided violently. And a tense Meerut looks on fearfully as the fight between the Muslim clergy and the district administration here over the marriage of 12 Muslim women—inmates of government-run homes for destitute women—to Hindu men threatens to spill into its congested bylanes. Ill-will prevails and accusations abound in this communally sensitive town. The reason is that Muslim Elders have flourished a fatwa issued by Nadwatul Uluma, an Islamic seat of religious learning in Lucknow, pronouncing the marriages illegal. And the district administration, in turn, refuses to reconsider either the validity of the wedlock or its own alleged religious insensitivity in finding Hindu grooms for the girls.
Not that the furious custodians of correctness have bothered to stray from their ivory towers to see how the girls are actually faring. They'd find happy brides glad to leave the dark, dingy and depressing homes that were their fate before their grooms took them out.
Instead, letters of vehement protest have been shot off by the Shahr Qazi to the prime minister, home minister and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. And the National Minorities Commission and the National Human Rights Commission have begun investigating the wedding that took place on May 12. Local dailies are recording developments in the matter on a war footing. The newly-weds—already summoned once from their far-flung homes to be grilled on their conjugal happiness or the lack of it—may be called again. The city additional district magistrate's office is in a tizzy trying to cope with the barrage of enquiries being made by the Qazi, the media and various governmental agencies now involved in the matter. And the files listing the matrimonial addresses of the 12 new brides are now controversial commodity—secure in the safes of the two destitute homes, Rajkiya Sanrakshan Griha and Rajkiya Uttar Raksha Griha.
"But the matter can't be hidden away in sarkari files any longer! Government bodies can't wed Muslim girls to Hindu men in blatantly Hindu ceremonies in a secular country and expect no backlash. We feel intense grief and shock! It's now become a national issue for the Muslim," says an irate Rashid-ud-din Ahmed, Ameer of Meerut's Jamate Islami (Hind). Taking deep breaths to control his emotion, the aged scholar enlarges the scope of the community's complaint. All Nari Niketans (destitute homes), he claims, insist on their inmates performing pooja. "The namaaz is not even mentioned. Gurujis are called in to lecture and peer pressure makes these impressionable young girls keep vrats (fasts) and worship idols." The Naib Sahr Qazi Zainur Rashid corroborates that with a grave nod of his head. His home near Thana Kotwali, now the meeting place for discussions on this 'burning religious issue' of the day, is brimming with agitated community elders thrashing out plans to cope with the crisis.
Any prodding as to whether the girls objected to Hindu grooms irritates the Elders. "How does it matter? Especially since they have been brainwashed by a system that has hardly given them the choice of practicing their own religion," dismisses Mohammed Haneef Quereshi, secretary of Jamait Ulma. These feelings are shared by the youths in the community, says Mohammed Sadir Khan of the Muslim Youth Welfare Society. "Inter-religion marriages are common in modern India but conversion into the other's religion is a must by either the bride or the groom," he insists. "Otherwise these are not marriages in the eyes of society."
The district administration refuses to recognise these claims as valid. Additional district magistrate (city) Pushpapati Saxena confirms that the marriages were performed under the Civil Marriages Act. The pheras that took place later were performed at the behest of some rich townsmen who wanted to present the newly-weds with gifts for starting a home. "It was a mass-wedding. Thirty-five Hindu girls from the two homes were also married off simultaneously. The idea was to rehabilitate these girls, not to hurt sentiments. We advertised for grooms in local papers—it's just that no Muslim suitors replied and the girls didn't object," the harassed bureaucrat says. "In fact, the girls wrote us their consent."
A peek inside one of the homes revealed why a young girl wouldn't think twice before signing on any document that promised her freedom from its claustrophobic environs. Dilapidated and dreary, the Rajkiya Sanrakshan Griha also houses mentally-deranged women with little girls. Huddled together, they struggle to survive stern officials, musty beds and pathetic living conditions. Anjul Saxena, the home's deputy superintendent, observes: "Why are these Qazis kicking up a fuss now? Were these moral authorities willing to take care of any of these girls as they languished here in this sad place? They must be so happy to be out."
And that, perhaps, is the only heartening part of the story. Nineteen-year-old Masiran's face lights up as her 30-plus husband Ramesh Kumar plays with her daughter from a previous marriage. "He's named her Payal and he calls me Suman," she says coyly. Lost to her family in Madhupur,
Bihar, when she boarded a wrong train and was then dumped into a Meerut home, Masiran has at last found a new family. A car mechanic, Ramesh too is happy with his new-found family: "She doesn't worship any Hindu god but then neither do I. We only argue about the fact that she likes to eat rice while everyone in my family likes rotis. It really has us fighting."
Jagpal Singh, a vegetable vendor at Baghpath gate, seems to have even less to argue about with his newlywed wife Razia. "Yes, there are problems in the marriage. She doesn't talk at all," he says in mock anger. Shrugging away Hindu-Muslim problems in her marital relationship, Razia says she had been fasting on Mondays for a while, praying that Lord Shiva grants her a good groom. "I wish so many people weren't asking us these questions—it creates problems for us in the family," she whispers. Perhaps that is why Zaibunissan, married to Rajendra Singh in Muzzafarnagar, has sent in a written affidavit con-firming conjugal bliss. "Just don't harass us anymore. Leave us alone to be happy."
Just like other Zaibunissans, Razias, Masirans, Sarlas and Sumitas left alone to languish in the country's various Nari Niketans. Till some other controversy gets society's 'guardians' to drag them into the limelight. To be hounded and harassed. And then to be forgotten.