Hyderabad: Activist Jameela Nishat condemned for ANI interview on child marriages

Hyderabad Desk

By Mehboob Ali

Hyderabad: Activists from Hyderabad condemned the recent ANI interview of Urdu poet and activist Jameela Nishat on the alleged continuing “practice” of child marriages of Muslim girls from Hyderabad’s Old City to older men from Gulf countries.

The statement called for joint action rather than giving way to stereotypes that feed into the ongoing right-wing Hindutva narratives spreading Islamophobia.

The combined statement issued by 33 Hyderabad-based activists including Khalida Parveen, SQ Masood, Noorjahan Siddiqui and others expressed their concern about the interview of Jameela Nishat on “The Child Bride Racket in Hyderabad” was recorded on May 1, 2024.

It was broadcast on June 29, 2024, by ANI News on the alleged continuing “practice” of marriages between minor Muslim girls from the Old City area of Hyderabad to old Sheikhs from Gulf countries.

While child marriages in Hyderabad have occurred in the past, even until a decade ago, the practice has now decreased thanks to the efforts of activists and authorities. In recent times, no such instances have come to light from the Old City of Hyderabad.

The statement by the Hyderabad activists called the interview “mischievous, malicious, and unfounded in facts or institutional reports” on child marriages in Telangana. The activists demanded ANI to take down the report.

In the interview, Smita Prakash of ANI claims that child marriages are an age-old practice in Hyderabad and are “rooted” in social and economic inequalities, gendered mindsets, and bigotry.

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“The issue of child brides in Hyderabad is a serious one, that has plagued the city and the country not for decades but much more. The reasons why this atrocity continues are not difficult to fathom, inequalities both financial and social, gender-related mindsets, and yes bigotry. Despite stricter laws and increased awareness the practice of marrying off young girls, mostly minors continues in the old city. Most of these girls are married to older men or Sheikhs living in gulf countries, men 20,30,40 years older than them, in exchange for money,” said Smita Prakash.

Jameela Nishat, when asked about it, said that the practice started in the 1970s, as her cousins were married in such a way. “But those days the girls were taken there (Middle East). They are settled in their families. Whether it was a second marriage third or fourth, but they were living with that old man. Now they have been married many times and they are set here only. They are not taken there. Very few of them are taken,” she claimed in the interview.

Jameela Nishat alleged that girls from the Old City of Hyderabad are married multiple times from a very young age with one girl being married 17 times between the age of 13 to 17.

“One of the girls, she was 22 and she came here and she wrote a letter to her mother saying Aap ko 17th damad, Mubarak (which translates to 17th son-in-law for you), this was 2008-09 she was the eldest daughter,” she claimed, among other things. The activist runs an NGO for women named Shaheen in Hyderabad’s Old City.

The activists however demand answers from Jameela Nishat. The joint statement from the 33 activists posed questions on remarks made during the interview.

“You must be fully aware that the responsible authorities of the day also undertook suitable action to discourage and ban such marriages. It would be safe to say that such illegal marriages have been thoroughly regulated and no such cases have been reported in Hyderabad over the last few years,” they said.

The activists from Hyderabad said that Nishat’s allegations of child marriages will have an adverse effect on the Muslim community. “We hope you have thought through the implications of these objectionable claims. Are you aware of the implications due to these false claims?” they stated.

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