While the Pune Municipal Corporation is doing all it can to curb underage marriages, Alandi — a pilgrimage site barely 27 km from the city — is fast emerging as the new capital for illegal weddings. Not long ago, the civic body has issued notices to marriage halls asking them to demand age proof of the bride and the groom, and deny renting out the hall if any of the two is found to be an underage.
However in Alandi, the situation is otherwise. MiD DAY has found out that anybody, irrespective of their religion and age, can get married by paying anything between Rs 1,500 to 5,000 to local marriage halls or agents. The amount is inclusive of the priest’s fee, and all the materials required for performing the ceremony.
Although cops claim that no underage marriages are taking place in their jurisdiction, social activists and locals claim that more than 100 such marriages happen here every month, and that numbers increase many a time during wedding season. In fact, locals claim that owners of some marriage halls and dharmshalas come up with new ideas to facilitate such marriage.
According to locals, agents ask bride or groom to complete the rituals first and collect the marriage certificate later i.e. when they attain the legal age for marriage.
A local said, “After the wedding ceremony, the provisional marriage certificate — with the details of marriage hall printed on it — is given to the newlywed couple. The certificate includes photographs of the couple, signature of the witnesses and the priest. However, in case of an underage marriage, they avoid giving certificate soon after the marriage. They ask the couple to return after the underage candidate had attainted marriageable age.”
‘It’s difficult to stop’
Even the chief officer of Alandi Municipal Council confirmed that underage marriages are rampant is the holy town. Vinayak Aundhkar told MiD DAY, “As there are several marriage halls in Alandi, which are not even registered, it becomes difficult for us to keep a tab on illegal marriages. I have conducted several meetings with marriage hall and dharmashala owners to create an awareness about the issue, but in vain.”
However, Assistant Police Inspector Bapusaheb Deshmukh of Alandi police station claimed that no underage marriages take place in Alandi. “You won’t find any illegal marriage being carried out her. We have served notices to all the marriage halls, and fearing police action, they don’t carryout illegal weddings.”
Director of Janawadi
Considering the present rule, one shouldn’t allow marriage if the girl hasn’t attainted 18 years of age. I am not sure about the percentage of underage marriages in Alandi, however I know that such marriages are a common phenomenon in slum areas.
Social activist from Alandi
Around 20-30 per cent of marriages here are illegal. The couples complete the marriage procedure and make it public only after they attain the legal age of getting married.
Child right activist from Alandi
Many a time parents produce forged age proof to get their daughters married early. In fact once we found out that a policeman had helped the parent to get forged certificate. On an average we counter 10 cases of underage marriages every year.
The shady, shaadi business
We visited a dharamshal called Rajmata Mangal Karyalaya and were shocked to find out the way the illegal business was being carried out here. We met a woman Anita Zujam who was ready to provide all support for carrying out an underage marriage, but for a price. Here’s the transcript of the conversation the reporter had with her:
MiD DAY: I want to enquire about the marriage procedure?
Anita Zujam: Registered marriage or normal?
MD: Registered marriage.
AZ: This is a list of document. When do you want to get married?
MD: (Pointing at the photographer) He wants to get married.
AZ: Is it a case of inter-caste marriage?
MD: No, but my parents are against it. Also, there’s one problem. The girl is still minor.
AZ: Then it’s impossible.
AZ: (After a pause) When do you want to get married?
MD: As soon as possible, but what about the age issue?
AZ: I’ll arrange something for you. How old is the girl? Three months to complete 18 years of age?
AZ: Are her parents looking for a guy for her? I suggest you get married now and declare it after two-three months. Otherwise, the guy will have to face problems. We can arrange marriage now and issue a certificate after the girl completes 18 years of age.
MD: Have you handled such cases before?
AZ: Yes, we have women’s organisation and volunteers working for us. They handle the local police. Don’t worry. No one will ever take any objection, we’ll manage everything.