Just days after a major crackdown against illegal sheikh marriages in the old city of Hyderabad, the cops have finally zeroed in on Qazi Ali Abdullah Rifai aka Volta Rifai, the main accused who has been conducting these marriages. He was absconding ever since police spread a clandestine network of brokers and Qazis last week.
A team of Falaknuma police was tracking him after he allegedly went into hiding during the crackdown on Arab Sheikhs and Qazis in old city. One of the officials said, "We have finally succeeded in tracing him and he has been detained for interrogation."
In 2015 too, he was booked for a similar case of performing child marriages with elderly Arab nationals. The Qazi had earlier obtained stay from the court against State Minorities Department and was continuing to perform marriages. So far, the police have arrested 20 people, including 5 Omani nationals, 3 Qatar nationals, 3 Qazis, 5 local brokers and 4 lodge owners.
The ill-famed Bride Bazar in Hyderabad came into the limelight after the city police team conducted an investigation in the case of a 16-year old girl getting illegally married to a 60-year old Sheikh. The girl was exploited and then left to fend for herself. Teenage girls are lured to marry Arab Sheikhs as aold as 80 or even more.
The girls are paraded in front of the Sheikhs with a fixed price tag and the latter can make their choice according to their needs. Till now, police have also identified 35 brokers, mostly women and unearthed a network spread from Hyderabad to Gulf countries.
Speaking to media, Hyderabad police commissioner M Mahendar Reddy said, "We raided two locations in the city and have arrested about 20 people. The raids were conducted based on a tip-off from a girl, who was a victim in the case. Three Qazis, one of whom is from Mumbai, are among the ones arrested. The girls were sexually assaulted not just by the Qazis but also other men. Explotiation of at least 12 girls was prevented in this crackdown. Charges under IPC Sections 420 (cheating and dishonest), 370 (exploitation), rape and POCSO Act have been filed."
Police also said that the modus operandi of the racket was to target poor families with minor girls. The girls and their families were promised money and a luxurious lifestyle in Gulf countries. The Arab nationals pay up anything between Rs 3 to Rs 10 lakh, most of which would be taken by the brokers and the Qazi.
The brokers used to identify poor families interested in marrying off their girls for money without considering the age of the groom. Incidentally, the brokers segregate their clients into three categories- the 'autowalas', the 'Ambassador Carwala' who are lodged in local hotels in Charminar and the third category 'Innovawala' who are lodged in 5-star hotels.
The brokers targetted families that were poor and were eager to marry off their daughters for money, without considering the age of the groom.
Apart from being the negotiators and the co-ordinators, the brokers also arrange for visas, fake documents like birth certificates and passport for the girls. They even used their house for meeting of the girl's and the groom's families.
To prevent such crimes, police have issued advisories to the Minority Welfare Department, asking them to publish guidelines for foreign nationals who wish to be married in Hyderabad. In their advisory, police have asked foreigners to bring NOC from their country and submit an application with the Commissioner of Police if they intend to marry a girl in the city. The police have also determined the age difference between the bride and the groom to be not more than 10 years.