Sure sour pie

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Couples resort to court marriages, mostly, to overcome parental dissent. However, the notary registration of marriages, which is only valid in J&K is also misused to commit fraud. Shazia Yousuf reports

“I swear upon Allah. I didn’t marry (him),” Zareena said, sobbing. Her visibly shocked parents and other family members didn’t seem to pay any heed to her. Their eyes transfixed on the marriage document the lawyer was scanning.

The document had arrived last night, making every person in the family, including Zareena, restless. This lower middle class family from a North Kashmir village was finalizing arrangements for their daughter’s engagement when Aslam, a 30-year-old ex-militant from the same village produced a court document claiming Zareena was married to him. Aslam claimed that they had married in a court a few months back, when her family started searching a match for her. He also claimed that Zareena was keeping mum for fear of reprisals from her family.

That night nobody in the family could sleep while Zareena cried all alone in her room. Next morning, both the parties landed in the lower court with the document.

The document did not stand the scrutiny of the court and Zareena was proved innocent. She had never married Aslam. However, the fact that Aslam had been able to carry out the fraud, apparently, with ease left everyone shocked over the procedure of the court marriages in Kashmir.

“He had carried out the marriage through notary public; it is the easiest way to get married and is applicable in Kashmir only. Notary public doesn’t care for any identity proof, he (Aslam) brought some other girl (who impersonated as Zareena) to the court and got a marriage certificate issued in the name of Zareena and himself,” said Advocate Tufail Ahmad who mostly deals with the court marriages in the lower court.

The other procedure for a court marriage is to get it done by the registrar of the marriages. Both the parties are required to fill an application form in registrar’s office along with residential, age and identity proofs. This is followed by the general public notice that is displayed on the notice board and invites objections for the period of one month. If no objections are received, marriage certificate is issued after 30 days.

“The photographs of the couple are pasted in notice board for a month and sometimes notices are carried in newspapers as well, that way general public and even families of both boy and the girl get informed thus leaving no scope of misusing it,” advocate Tufail says.

However, the procedure adopted in Kashmir is entirely different as compared to other states. While a court marriage anywhere in India takes at least one month, here it varies between 10 to 15 minutes.

In Kashmir where central laws, including registrar of marriages, are not applicable unless adopted by the state legislature, the marriages mostly are carried out through notary agreements while 1 to 5 percent take place before a chief judicial magistrate.

“The required procedure is to carry out the agreement before chief judicial magistrate but more than 95 per cent court marriages take place through notary agreements. It is as simple as getting an affidavit and eases both lawyer as well as the clients from many legal responsibilities,” says lawyer Nasir Ahmad Shawl.

Though there are no official figures available, the lawyers mostly dealing with marriages believe that the number of notarized marriages taking place every month in the lower court alone is between 100 to 150.

“Agreement before CJM carries more legal authenticity and is less vulnerable to fraud because any mischief played in marriage agreement carried (out) before CJM is considered as an offense which is not case with the notary public,” informs advocate Nasir.

“Though Zareena’s family could get her out from the fake marriage bond, Aslam could not be booked for the action because he too had gone for the safer procedure,” he adds.

There are a good number of cases where girl is a minor but given the agreements done through notary public, no action is taken against lawyer or the clients. “Many girls for whom I have done marriage agreements come in their school and college uniforms. There are good chances of them being minor, but they either bring fraud medical certificate or any other document to prove themselves major (above 18 years of age),” Nasir informs.

Legal experts say mostly people working or living in other countries, who need legal marriage proofs to take their spouses along, prefer the proper route of getting the marriage certificate from a magistrate. Otherwise, they believe, most of the couples, who go for court marriages in Kashmir, do not have the family consent.

“They are usually college students in teenage love affair and most of them do not have age and other identity proofs that’s why they skip the authentic procedure. They require playing frauds,” says advocate Sheikh Al Saba.

“These marriages fail, most of the times. We have estimated that only around 5 percent of court marriages here are success. They are either the ones where in spite of family pressure girl shows resistance or the ones where the foreigner girl marries with a Kashmiri boy, it is this class who prefer marriage agreement before CJM.

Because one party needs authentic documents for visa purposes and the other one in extreme cases demand security,” advocate Saba adds.
Saba says that court marriages could serve as an alternate way for the ones who cannot afford extravagant marriages and has potential to save time, money and check the rising trend of late marriages and dowry issues and in some cases prostitution. “Unfortunately, it is never used for right purposes,” she adds.

Saba gives another example where a boy, on the pretext of getting one girl a bank loan, got her signatures on a blank paper and produced a marriage agreement out of it. He says dozens of such agreements are prepared for black mailing purposes.

“Recently a girl filed a writ petition against a magistrate. She claims that she was not present in the marriage the magistrate had made her a part of, these things do happen,” sighs the advocate.

Saba says that the fate of the marriage agreement depends on the firmness of the girl. He gives the example of a marriage that took place between a boy belonging to a sweeper community and a daughter of an influential man, “the girl was so firm, she went to magistrate and said that they need protection. Though they live away from their families but they are happy but such cases are very rare,” she says.

What happens is that the couple with the help of police is recovered mostly by the girl’s family. The girl is either convinced or threatened to give a statement against the boy who is slapped with an abduction or rape case and ends in police lockup or a court room.

“We always know the consequences. We know that marriage agreement is not the end, that they will come again, this time yet with another case which we in advance know will be based on pure allegations, we fight kidnapping or abduction case against boys when we know the reality,” the advocate says.

He counts dozens of incidents where false cases were filed against the other party. An example can be of Suraya and Riyaz, a couple from downtown who have been fighting a case from three years – the case that once Suraya’s family used to end their relation forever.

“I gave a false statement. That was the only way of keeping him safe…they would have hurt him,” Suraya says referring to Riyaz.

It was 2006 when the five-year-long love affair between Riyaz, 28, and Suraya, 25, his neighbor in downtown Srinagar, became known to their families. Riyaz was getting engaged with his cousin.

Riyaz tried to convince his parents to let him marry Suraya. He says, he pleaded before them and sometimes the debates would be heated. “I thought that I could convince them but they started fixing the date for marriage. I had no option we eloped,” he said.

The couple fled to Jammu, spent a few weeks there until they were recovered by the police and returned to their families. Suraya was pressurised to give a false statement that helped her family to file a kidnapping case against him, “They threatened me, (they) said they would kill him (Riyaz) if I did not say that,” Suraya said.

Two months later Riyaz was married to his cousin Raziya. Barely two months into the marriage Riyaz again eloped with Suraya. “I just took part in marriage and could never accept my cousin as (my) wife,” Riyaz said.

Both the families reconciled. They were brought back and married. Suraya and Riyaz are happily married with a two year old son but both have to pay visits to the lower court for the hearing of the case that once Suraya’s family filed against him. “It is shameful at times, we ourselves know the reality but are bound by the law to fight such stupid cases,” says  Advocate Saba. To keep a check on the rise of these agreement marriages in Kashmir that has shown a considerable rise over the past many years, High court some years back has came out with a verbal circular saying that the agreement should only take place in presence of girl’s family.

(Some names have been changed)

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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