Sunday, September 19, 2010

Locked up in wedlock

(This is a story for which I did a lot of hardwork and spend lots of time. Till now no other story of mine has given the satisfaction for me as this one gave.. I desperately wanted to publish it..But unfortunately no newspaper was there to help me to publish this work)

Haseena bears an indignant look, as though nothing matters any more. On prodding, she opens up, hesitantly. Her life took a bitter turn when she was married to a man employed in the Gulf. She was in her pre-degree class, and he was half as educated as her.

Though she had dreams of a good job, she gave in. However, an inner call prompted her to apply for a government job. But when she got it, her husband asked her to dump the idea. She complied meekly, to return with domesticity. “What could I have done?” asks Haseena.

Malappuram in North Kerala is home to many like her, with frozen ambitions leading a life of slavish submission to tradition and patriarchy. A 2001 census figure says12,47,419 women, of the total Muslim population of 24, 84,576, in the district are unemployed. This means 50 per cent of Muslims or nearly the entire lot of women, all when the literacy rate among the women in the district is a staggering 85.5 per cent. The female work participation rate here is an abysmal 6.6 per cent. Drop out rate among high school girls is very high, and so is teenage marriage and early childbirth.

The average age for marriage of Muslim girls from the area is 15, though the age is now slightly up, to 21. Yet a girl who has crossed 23 is considered “beyond marriageable age’. A survey in Nilambur district shows that there are about 1,265 girls, who couldn’t get married for having crossed the ‘marriageable age’. There is very little likelihood of such girls getting a good match, which, by popular standards, is a Gulf-employed groom.

Parents of brides proudly proclaim their prospective son-in-law “is in the Gulf”, as though no other qualification could match up to that. Islamic laws do not require a girl’s consent for fixing her marriage; her father can choose her partner. “The first marriage of a girl can be made according to the wishes of the father. The consent of girls is not important by the laws of the Koran,” says A.P. Abdulkhader, an Arabic Pandit.

Many of the marriages are held even without the knowledge of the girl. “One of my students got married so suddenly, within two days. The proposal came a Thursday and the marriage was on the following Saturday,” says Juby, a teacher in Ansar College in the district. Most of the girls are married off while they are studying and are forced to quit studies once married.

Hasna is one such who was promised chance to study only to drop out after marriage. “I had to obey my parents. So I married, and my husband’s family said it will let me study, but after marriage, I had to quit my UG course half way,” she says.

According to the Sharia, a girl who has reached puberty is fit to be married. (Yet the law does not stipulate an age for marriage of girls.) Muslim society takes this as cue to get its girls married off early, to evade the huge dowry a girl above ‘the marriageable age’ invites. Increase in wedding expenses and the shooting price of gold add to this trend. Another reason is the low marriage age of men. Most become fathers of one or two by 25. So girls who prefer to study after graduation will find getting married difficult. “The laws force her to adjust to the life of a housewife,” says Laila, a college lecturer. The men are so less educated as compared to women, prompting them to deny their wives access to higher education or a job. “I have a job and can look after my wife. I married her for looking after my family and my parents, so there is no need for her money,” says Shamsudeen, who works in a company.

Yet the laws are such that the women end up feeling insecure, as even her position as a wife is dependent largely on her husband, who can divorce her at his whim and fancy. “The laws do not give any guarantee to the Muslim women,” says Aryadan Shoukath, an MP and filmmaker. The situation now is a tad better now than before when all studies a Muslim girl could do was till 4th or 5th grade of a Madrassa. Now they are at least allowed to complete school. And there are some positives of the Gulf trend. “The women can pursue their higher studies while their husbands are away,” says
Irudaya Rajan S, Professor, Unit of International Migration, CDS. For Shahna, the Gulf syndrome was quite a boon. Her husband wanted her to pursue her studies but her mother-in-law tried playing the spoilsport. “She doesn’t like me going to college in bus from their home.

Neither can I take a cab or auto,” Shahna says. But she braved the odds, and continued to study from her home. “Now the course is over, and I joined in an auto CAD center as a trainee. My mother-in-law-law doesn’t know that. I now plan to go to Dubai with my husband. He will find me a job there,” she says with glee.

Schemes like Government of Kerala’s Akshaya computer literacy scheme and IGNOU’s community college, started in Nilambur Panchayat, have given women the opportunity to set pace to their stuck-up lives. The strength of IGNOU college is 125, of whom 50 are women who were ‘too old to get married’. “Islam does not forbid women from working, but they have to be dressed according to the Sharia,” Abdulkhader says.

Traditions and patriarchal motives are thus eating into the rights of women to be free individuals. Even when man feasts on silicon chips and water on moon.
(Some names have been changed to protect identity)

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