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Against their wishes

An amateur film brings out the plight of Hyderabad's child brides without making judgements.

By Sevanti Ninan
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Kaneez Begum: A victim of comp IN DECEMBER, newspapers seized gleefully upon yet another episode originating in Hyderabad of a minor Muslim girl married to an Arab. Kaneez Begum, said to be 16 years old, had been sold for Its 20,000 against her wishes. As always, the reporting was one-dimensional. So it is appropriate to focus on Behind the Veil, a film made last year.

The film is remarkable for two reasons. It is a student film made with the limitations of time and resources to fulfil a course requirement at the Sarojini Naidu School of Fine Arts, Performing Arts and Communication at the University of Hyderabad. Secondly, because filmmaker Sumithra Prasanna has done an unusually rounded job of exploring the dimensions of the issue without making judgements, but nonetheless bringing out the complexities involved, which defy easy solutions.

The film focuses on three teenage girls who have been through this tragic route: marriage to a much older man, subjugation in a foreign land and then, desertion or escape. The camera dwells frequently on the girls' fresh, youthful faces, untouched by the squalor they have known. They are candid and unaffected.

In discussing the issue with intermediates who arrange such matches, spokespersons for the Muslim core inanity, police officials and a representative of the United Arab Emirates, the film delineates the contours of the problem. It looks at the law of the land versus Muslim personal law and comes up against a very basic resistance to the prospect of state interference in such marriages. Though the girls say they want the government to do something, the police say the state can interfere only if the girl is a minor and the community leaders say they will resist interference in their personal law, which permits marriage from the age of 12 upwards.

Tall order Shaheen, who was married to a 35-year-old Omani and divorced 15 days later, says the government should ensure either that only those with honorable intentions marry such girls or that these Arab men do not enter the country. A tall order, especially when Shaheen's parents themselves do precious little to check the bona fides of prospective grooms.

Shaheen*s sister Nasreen, was married off to a 53-year-old Kuwaiti and returned home after an unhappy experience. Farzana, now 17, was married at 12 to a Saudi, then deserted and had her 6-month-old son taken away within 18 months.,br>
The state government has started a Rs 1 crore training project to rehabilitate such women. But Shaheen says she would have had the confidence to do a lot more with the training had she been literate.

What becomes clear is that little control over errant bridegrooms is possible. What is refreshing about the film is that it is matter-of-fact, not maudlin and neither pontificating nor preachy. In fact, it is more professional and balanced than many Doordarshan films on social problems and deserves to be aired.

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