ISLAMABAD: Away from political crises the Supreme Court is occupied with these days, its hallowed halls on Monday were witness to a human tragedy.
Instead of politicians, bureaucrats and ministers, parents, daughters and siblings stood across each other in the court and made emotional appeals to judges. Fathers broke down and daughters tried to speak freely surrounded by an eager media, intimidating policemen and sullen husbands. Judges who have honed their cross-questioning skills on hard-nosed politicians had to gently try to pry the truth from vulnerable young women.
The occasion was of controversial marriages of three young women from interior Sindh that was taken up by a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
Wrapped in black veils, the girls, Rinkal Kumari, 19, (now known as Faryal Bibi) of Mirpur Mathelo, and Dr Lata Kumari, 30, (Hafsa) of Jacobabad, were produced before the court under the watchful eyes of Sindh police. The third girl, Aasha Devi, is missing. Naveed Shah and Nadir Baig, husbands of Rinkal and Dr Lata, respectively, were also in attendance.
To the shock and dismay of their parents, the girls entered into matrimony with Muslim boys after embracing Islam — a development that sent shock waves through the local Hindu community which alleged that their young girls were being abducted, forced to change their religion and married off to Muslim men.
The girls, however, appeared to be shaky and in a state of confusion. They claimed before the court that they had converted of their own free will, but seeing their parents and family in distress they tried to reach out to the rostrum and even said they wanted to go with their parents. “We understand such marriages never take place in ordinary situation and involvement of criminal elements cannot be ruled out,” the chief justice observed. Such incidents happened because of lack of a law concerning minority marriages, he said.
The chief justice asked Rinkal Kumari to come to the rostrum and asked her about her education qualification first in Urdu and English and then in Sindhi.
But realising the hesitation and reluctance on part of Rinkal, the bench ordered all people, including the husbands, lawyers, parents and media personnel, to leave the courtroom to provide an opportunity to both the girls to record their statements with will in-camera.
During over 20 minutes of questioning and recording of statements, the court summoned Ms Noora Bibi and Dr Ramesh Kumar (parents of Rinkal) and Ms Shamim and Nandar Lal (parents of Dr Lata). Other members of the families were seen reciting their holy books outside the courtroom.
Later when the audience assembled inside the court, the bench noted the pressure on the women.
Advocate Dr Khalid Ranjha, representing Nadir Baig, was asked by the bench to read out the statement of Dr Lata. She admitted that she was a medical officer in the Agha Khan Hospital and that she solemnised the marriage with consent without any coercion and now was living with her husband who is a mechanical engineer in Pak Suzuki Motors.
Significantly, Rinkal did not sign the statement she had recorded before the court.
Dr Rumash Kumar, father of Dr Lata, started shouting inside the courtroom after hearing her statement. He alleged that his daughter was being snatched against her will.
The court, however, ignored him realising the sensitivity of the issue and the distress the parents were undergoing. It observed that family members represented the weak segment of society and, therefore, needed more protection than others.
Justice Tariq Parvez, a member of the bench, warned that religion should not be involved in the present controversy.
After consultations with the lawyers representing different parties, the court decided to send both the women to the Panah Shelter Home being run under the aegis of Majida Rizvi, former chairman of the National Commission on Status of Women, for three weeks. The court ordered police officers to produce the girls before it on April 18. The Sindh IG was directed to recover missing Aasha.