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17 July 2012

Elopement Cases growing in India

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The thirty three year old Assam MLA, Rumi Nath, who had left her first husband and her two year-old daughter and eloped and married her Facebook friend, 28-year-old Zakir Hussain, hit the headlines because the couple were beaten up by unruly mob in their hotel room.

This high profile case caught the imagination of the people who were debating on issues like bigamy, inter- religion marriage, kidnapping, pregnancy, conversion, etcetera.

The above incident is just the tip of the iceberg, if one believes the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau regarding kidnapping of women and girls in 2011. At a glance at the statistics maybe shocking, but digging deep into it tells a different story that relates to the changing social profile of the country. 

According to National Crime Records Bureau report, UP tops in the all-India list of kidnappings of women including girls with 7,525 cases, followed by West Bengal 3,711 and Bihar, the kidnap capital of the country with, 3,050 cases. 

In contrast to north Indian states, the southern states have far less figures relating to kidnappings of women and girls. Tamil Nadu recorded 1,743 cases, followed by Andhra Pradesh at 1,612, Karnataka at 1,395 and Kerala with 299 cases.

The highest number of cases in Tamil Nadu was from Villupuram district (187) followed by Salem (rural) (108) and Cuddalore (100). Chennai with 41 cases and Coimbatore with 39, fare better than most other districts of the state.

Numbers, of course, don’t tell the whole story always. The alarm that could arise out of the dramatic figures calms down when it is revealed that majority of the cases is about elopements and not really of kidnapping as registered in the police records.

This phenomenon is growing at its own pace and needs to be analyzed in order to construct a different picture of India that is slowly negotiating with modern life style in this globalize world.

A deep look at such cases concludes that such incidents should not be merely treated as regular crime cases of abduction but these in fact reflect the changing social mores in the country.

In the modern environment, there are far more opportunities of social interaction that one may have thought out some two decades ago. The internet, mobile phone, social networking sites, various other forums, gives opportunity for far greater social discourse.
These days’ young women are becoming financially independent and socially secure. Many prefer to make their own decisions and they often decide to select life partners by themselves. 

The other social dimension is the bane of dowry system. Young girls foresee that their parents may not able to pay huge sum required for a decent arranged marriage and they may remain unmarried for want of it. This forces some of them to choose their own partner and a few tread the path of elopement. 

This often leads to stiff resistance from the elders. The first response from the agitated parents is to accuse the other party of kidnapping. They immediately approach the police and record the incident as a case of abduction. It is only after the couple are traced and a cross checking is done with them that the real truth comes out from them.

In this statistics there is also an alarming trend where young girls below the age of 18 are lured into relationships during their school days and such cases are treated differently.
In cases involving minors who eloped with older man, a kidnapping case is registered and the person is arrested. The girl is brought back and reunited with her parents and counseling is given to both. 

There are also cases of kidnapping for ransom in the figures mentioned above. Recently, a five-member gang was arrested in Coimbatore who kidnapped a 25-year-old woman and demanded a ransom of 1 crore from her father, a textile merchant.

However, such cases are miniscule when compared to the elopement cases that are reported as kidnapping. Most of the cases are usually settled amicably between the parents and the other parties involved, with police acting as a mediator.

However, some have the ugly side of the story as well. Rizwan ur Rehman case, Bibi Jagir Kaur case are some ugly truth that searches an answer to this phenomena.

Violent reactions, leads to crimes like honor killing and becomes more of a problem then solution. A sound parenting and interactive guardianship of the children could be the best possible remedy for such issues. However, a change in outlook of the elder generation is needed to handle such issues. They have to accept the reality that the happiness of the couples is the only way forward in such cases. 

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

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