Sameem Ali with former England Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Here, Brown asks Ali about her favourtie parts from her biography "Belonging." – Photo courtesy Sameem Ali
Sameem Ali with former England Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Here, Brown asks Ali about her favourtie parts from her biography "Belonging." – Photo courtesy Sameem Ali

“When I did not return to school at the age of 13, why didn’t the school authority ask any questions; when I had a baby at the age of 14, the doctors, the nurses, not even the social services people asked my mother how I got pregnant,” says 42-year-old Sameem Ali, a Labour councilor of Pakistani origin in Moss Side, Manchester.

Born to Pakistani Muslim parents, Ali was forced into marriage as soon as she hit the teens to a Pakistani cousin twice her age and whom she met on the wedding day.

In 2011, the UK government’s Forced Marriage Unit recorded 1,468 instances, 78 per cent of which were females. However, the government says these figures are just the tip of the iceberg and do not reflect the full scale of the abuse as most cases go unreported. The government estimates that 5,000 to 8,000 cases of forced marriage take place in the UK every year.

In an interview with Dawn.com Dr Suhaib Hasan, secretary of the Islamic Sharia Council, in Leyton, points out the gaping “generational gap” that exists between the Pakistani parents who arrived in the country as unskilled workers in the 1950s and 1960s, and their children. He should know, as several young men and women forced into such unhappy matrimony seek his advice on divorce.

“First-generation Pakistanis remain prisoners to their traditions and have failed to integrate in the British society. They often force their children, especially their educated daughters to get married to their cousins in Pakistan, who may not be that well-educated. Very often there is no compatibility and this results in broken marriages.” Often, he said, the parents take their daughters on the pretext of a family vacation to Pakistan, take away their passport and force them in marriage.

“They never consider that consent of the woman is necessary and that it is against sharia (Islamic law) to carry out a nuptial between non-consenting couples,” pointed out Hasan.

In the multicultural Britain it is quite interesting to observe how the second and third-generation South Asian women, especially those who are more educated and economically independent are, at the one level valiantly challenging, and on the other, quietly negotiating and navigating, tradition, culture and honour.

And it is because Ali understands these undertones, she is positive the UK government’s decision to criminalise the offence of forced marriage (which is for now a civil offence) will not help but hinder the situation. It would mean the parents and relatives can be put behind bars.

She thinks the Forced Marriage Protection Order, introduced in 2008 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 is quite effective in dealing with the issue.

Through the FMPO a potential victim, friend or even the police can move the court to protect the individual. Anyone breaching the order can be jailed for up to two years.

While forcing someone to marry is not a specific criminal offence at the moment within England and Wales, criminal offences associated with and committed during the process of forcing someone into marriage can be committed (usually by parents or family members). These offences can range from threatening behaviour, to assault, kidnap, abduction, imprisonment, rape (sexual intercourse without consent) and murder. For all these, perpetrators can be prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

This has been the outcome of a three-month public consultation, initiated by the Home Office on the criminalisation of forced marriage concluded in March 2012 and by June the government had come up with the verdict – “I think there should be tough punishments,” said Prime Minister David Cameron.

Over more than a decade, the debate on forced marriage has morphed after going through a lifecycle of understanding that there was an issue in the first place, to clearing out myths and fallacies surrounding it and finally coming up with an agreement that it was a human rights offence. Today, it has gone even beyond that with rights groups arguing that it should be criminalised.

“For too long in this country we have thought it’s a cultural practice and we just have to run with it. We don’t. It’s a crime,” Cameron said.

Ranjit Bikhlu, director of Jeena International, a charity in the UK thinks it otherwise. She says it is the crime not the parents that the victims hate. She also thinks the law as it stands, on forced marriage is quite adequate.

“I wouldn’t have sent my mom to jail, despite her beating me blue and black and forcing me to get married,” Ali says, adding: “It’s not going to make a difference; no child will point their finger at their own mummy and daddy,”  The young politician believes that if a difference can be made, it can be through “educating and raising awareness” about the issue of forced marriage through policy making, not through legislation.

“Victims, continue to want a relationship with their parents and do not wish them to put them behind bars,” agrees Barrister Ayesha Hasan, who has dealt with several forced marriage cases. Not supportive of criminalising the offence, she says: “Many families have been stuck in a time warp” unable to see how the world around them has changed.

And Ali thinks like the victims of female genital mutilation, the victims of forced marriage will also become “invisible” and the issue will remain, she says. “Forced marriage does not happen overnight and it won’t end overnight. Putting it in a box is not the solution,” she emphasises.

She is willing to do all she can to make a difference and spread awareness about the issue. “Even if it means coming to Pakistan and telling my story to families who force their children to marry,” she says, in all seriousness. “I would love to come to Pakistan and start the campaign in schools in Pakistan because we have to tackle the root cause. I think if we educate people in Pakistan then we have solved half of the problem.”

Ali’s story is truly horrifying.

Born in Walsall, she was just six months old when she was put in a children’s home. She spent the first seven years of her life, which she recalls were “happy times” as a Christian.

Her mother had gone back to Pakistan, taking her five children with her after her husband was diagnosed with a mental disorder. Ali was left in the care of her father because her travel documents were not in place. “My father could not take care of me and therefore I was put in a home.”

Seven years later, her mother returned to England and wanted her back home.

“I was different from the rest of my siblings. My mother often said I wasn’t normal. I asked too many questions and was very outspoken. I didn’t understand the culture, the religion or the food. I was treated worse than a servant and beaten up if I didn’t do the house chores properly,” Ali recalled.

The beatings never stopped even as she grew up and sometimes they were so bad, she’d even bleed. “That’s when I started to retaliate and answer back. I began to inflict harm on myself as I couldn’t tell anyone and just internalised my pain.”

Interestingly, she was going to school all this time and the school administration never picked up this young girl’s problems or her scars both visible and otherwise.

At the age of 13, she was taken to Pakistan “on a holiday” but six weeks later she was married off.

Ali cannot remember much about the man she was married to, but was told by her mother she could only return to UK if she got pregnant. She believes she was married off and was made pregnant to strengthen her husband’s case for immigration.

“I returned to England seven-months pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy at the age of 14.”

She was 18, her son Azmier four, and “prayed every day” the abuse on her and her son would stop but it never did.

She also never went back to school after she returned to England because her mother didn't let her.

“My so-called husband did not come to this country I ran away from home as soon as I was asked to bring him to the UK at aged 17. I’ve never seen him again,” she says. She, however, went to a mosque to get a divorce and the cleric there told Ali she “wasn't married in the eyes of Islam” and told her to “live my life as best as I could”.

She ran off to Manchester with her son and started working in an immigration centre doing secretarial work to support herself and her son. “I was very happy and I’d say I was finally at peace because I wasn’t being hit.”

Had it not been for his son, Ali says, she would have taken her life. “I had attempted suicide a few times before he was born as the abuse was so intense. I just wanted to die but he saved my life and he made me live,” she speaks fondly of her only son.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (42)

s jameela baksh
June 25, 2012 9:29 am
the forced marriage is one thing but the offsprings from these cousins eventually end up with some sort of genetic disorder because the blood is too close. so i feel education is an important factor to weed out this biologically wrong act.in the Muslim world.
gulshan
June 26, 2012 3:02 pm
what should a women do where she can go if she fights with her parents who forced her for marriage? i am a live vitm.where should i go to whom i aske for help. in pakistan their is no one who help you.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob
June 25, 2012 3:31 pm
Its mostly about controlling the children and also about retaining the family wealth, and not letting it slip out through children marrying off to another family and thereby taking a chunk of their share with them, Forced marriages are pathetic but its inbuilt within these regressive communities who are stuck in a time wrap! Sadly, when they are told they can't do it, they bring in discrimination on the basis of religion and racism as shields to preserve such barbarism.
Guest
June 25, 2012 3:29 pm
did you even read the article? The article is not about adult arrange marriage.
El Cid
June 25, 2012 6:17 pm
It is NOT a part of Muslim religion or culture...some Sub-Continent Muslims oer the centuries converted from low caste Hindus and carried the culture of daughter infanticide and honor killings from there. This practice is prohibited categorically in the Noble Qur’an. Which they may not have read. Also without explicit repeated witnessed consent of the girl such marriage amounts to rape/prostitution--nul and void. That the most senior British politician rwas 'pushing' this charade suggests its part of the on-going propaganda defamation campaign against Islam and Muslims. A 'Straw-Man' best tackled in the judicial/legal system. Probably an attempt to sell the book.
El Cid
June 25, 2012 6:26 pm
Asif: This Noble Verse alone, completely demolishes the parents authority to forcefully marry off their daughters against their express will. There are others. Thanks.
El Cid
June 25, 2012 6:36 pm
This "biologically wrong act" is a genetic prohibition in the animal world too--for those living free in the wild, not under humans. Instinct NOT education controls...evolution decrees this natural diversification and strengthning of the species. Muslim world has nothing to do with it...it is done to keep land holdings within the family. Egyptian Pharoahs and European Monarchies have had this problem too, for the same reason.
El Cid
June 25, 2012 6:39 pm
Asad: Good response. Very well articulated.
richard
June 26, 2012 10:57 am
More than thirty percent of handicapped children in UK are the result of first cousin marriages among Pakistani people.
Guest62
June 26, 2012 3:14 pm
dear Guest , allow me to disagree with you , the stigma on Pakistan is not related to the area you mentioned But its the Pakistani Society living within the borders of this land of Pures . I think you do not perhaps know or do not want to know , what happens in the other two areas you missed to mention . honor killings is not considered a stigma in Baluchistan & Sind ( one honrable senator very proudly defended women folks killed in this way and that he did at the floor of the house of pakistan senate is in my mind more stigmatic that forced marriages ! ) . Marrying young girls to Holly Quran ( khaum bedhan ) so that the land property does not go away is very common in Baluchistan and evn in part of sind , what would you call these , Badges of honor on Sind and baluchistan ? No sir , the stigma is the mind set of the entire Pakistani society , liberal or orthodox , king or pauper , educated or under educated , this stigma is there in all parts of our dear country and society .... As regards to immigrating or not , if you apply this rule on only part of the country or any particular region , then that would be against the Human Rights of universal standard which even our religion up holds ( telling people if you are finding it hard to live in a place then move out as the universe of the Almighty is vast and resourceful ... This is the essence of the verse in am refering to and it set the basic principle of freedom of human movements 1300 years BEFORE any human rights convention came into being .... rest assured , once we all 180 millions can diagnose the malice we have in our society (rfan elahi has already found it out God bless him in his action follow-ups), then perhaps we can start working out to weed it out bit by bit , until that day comes , please do not be rash in your finger pointing
FDR
June 25, 2012 2:56 pm
This is not a RELIGIOUS problem it is a CULTURAL issue with cultural values and norms dictating such conduct. That is why you see it not just across muslim families but in hindu/sikh families as well and mostly in the Punjab region.
Bilal Hussain
June 25, 2012 8:15 am
I second Mr. Asad!
Guest62
June 25, 2012 8:16 am
Asad , either you are naive and acting like an Ostrich ( head in the sand ) or you are a victim of Self Denying Syndrome . There is No Pakistani Society ( poor or rich , elite or pauper, religious or secular ) which does not have this malice ( only the degree of its presence is varying ) ELSE its not a Pakistani Society at all and I am a born Pakistani , brought up in a middle class upbringings and have interacted fully (socially as well as friendly , religiously , financially ) with what is called above my ladder and what lies below my society status and ITS SHAME to say , we all have it and also in our own wisdom and self projection , practice it too YET we deny it out rightly . So You are a True Pakistani by that standard
Rizwan
June 25, 2012 2:39 pm
Deep down ‘forced marriage’ is a problem related to socio-economic realities especially in the wake of colonial departure. The colonial British authorities dealt the custom of sati/ suttee (widow burning) in a very ambiguous way so the issue of ‘forced marriage’ appropriates discursive dimensions. Simply criminalizing it would not help because in this way an authority (the adopted country), which is partially alien becomes seen impinging on victims’ cultural roots. The children, or more specifically daughters who are brought up in the sub-continent’s Muslim ethos are injected with extra-religious mores, which have nothing to do with actual Islamic values- too often culture and religion becomes entwined- hence the generation/s which migrate to western societies carry that “baggage” with them. I think stronger inter-communal values can minimise this problem.
Mehreen
June 25, 2012 2:15 pm
it's both - lack of education accompanied by blind adherence to ancestral traditions which are often in many cases patriarchal and discriminatory against women. Those who live in Pakistan know very well how badly culture is entrenched with religion, that sometimes it is very difficult to separate the two. Islam clearly speaks against forced marriages, it's a pity that the very parents who are so worried about their daughters not following in the traps of the modern society and take pre-emptive measures to ensure that their daughters follow the religion, are the very people who don't follow religion quite so well themselves.
asma
June 26, 2012 5:39 pm
You should say Astagfar and ask for forgiveness from Allah he knows the best. If marriage to cousin was bad Islam would not have allowed it. I know more than 100 people who married their cousin and have multiple children’s and non of them have any problems. They all are doing very well as well. You are too impressed with the western idea's. The west does not have any idea of family for them the family is just your brothers and sister and in some cases mom and dad. Look what they did in some of the Indian ruler areas when the ban the marriages in the same sect. Girls and Boys would be stuttered if the married within the same sect. Most of them were doing "zina". In the west they do not encourage marriages anyway. More than half of the west is bustards by the way who are you or me to set the puberty age? see part 2
Asad
June 25, 2012 9:28 am
You sir, need to take a class on english comprehension. What my point was that such practices are a result of a lack of education as opposed to cultural or religious fallacies. I guess it's my fault to believe that people who know how to read would be 'educated' enough to understand what I was trying to say. There is a difference between being educated and getting an education. There are a lot of 'parhay likhay' jahil who still believe in such practices.
Guest
June 25, 2012 5:16 pm
Well this ugly practice is still in existence, although, not as much as it was prevalent maybe 10-15 years ago. This could be due to the fact that now more western people are now aware of this illegal practice than before, and also, the parents have learned the lesson either by themselves are by looking at other parents who committed this practice and then suffered (in most of the cases, if not all). The interesting fact is that 90% plus people who were practicing this were from Punjab (both in Pakistan and India), and some part of NWFP. Surprisingly, people who immigrate to West, mainly, from these areas are still living in the era of few centuries back. In my opinion, these people, first of all, should not immigrate to West or if they do move then they should realize that they are not in Pakistan any more and should follow the law of the nation. These kind of people are really stigma for Pakistan.
Guest62
June 25, 2012 5:08 pm
S Jameela baksh , I support your views but if the education was the only criteria helpful to weed out this malice , then Who Could be a better educated then ZAB ( Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto - an oxford or Berclay return , barister of International law and teaching Intl law in berclay ) and he would have opposed the so called forced or forced upon marriage . Perhaps you forgot that he has a wife (daughter of his uncle ) arranged/forced marriage done with him . The poor lady (may be was not educated enough to find out this biological wrong act ! ) BUT the Barister ZAB was highly intelectual and educated enough to refuse it . He did not and in my humble opinion , it was less of a tradition or family pressure than the material benefits of this wife bringing in dowry of endless lands so he and his family could increase their lordship over the lands .. do not tell us that this was a one of a case ! thousands such cases have happened and are still happening in our Pakistani society .... So Just education or lack of it is Not at all the only remedy of this vicious malice nor is religious zeal behind its continuous practice , there is more than what can catch us the humble eyes wasting our time in suggesting the solution in education blabla....
n.qureshi
June 25, 2012 4:57 pm
the parents of these victims should be sent back to there home country
Guest62
June 25, 2012 4:50 pm
Nauman , Lets not act like ostrich and putting it as a lack of education , Not just educated BUT also Highly Educated and People who Make Laws in our Supreme Institution " Upper and Lower house combined " I hope you will still remember One honr.Senator from Baluchistan on the floor of the upper house Not Only comdemed those who were raising hue and cry about some women folks killed in Baluchistan BUT was saying loudly that It was his honor to up hold this tradition in his society SO Weather Educated , Highly Educated , MIT or Oxford returns , this is part and parcel of the (sick) side of the Pakistani society and its in practice in the form of ( Forced marriages , marriages with Quran , Honor Killings via karokari , etc etc etc all these sickness have been fully integrated into the society up to level of even giving these the religious backing
Guest62
June 26, 2012 9:17 am
Thanks Sabib , I did not want to enrage Assad further because he already took it as an insult to his highly educated calibre , he would take it an insult further upon himself to tell him (because he proposed to me to get a class in english comprehension ! ) I guess your view point helped to sort out who needed that sort of refresh and where are the real "parhay likay heading to ! " I must add though , he presents the real Pakistani mind set , denial , take it as insult if some one does not agree with your view and rebuke the offender with un called for words at the top of your voice ( a real pakistani mind set )
Guest62
June 26, 2012 4:31 pm
This is Guest2 to record my personal work in this area . I refused to be part of a cousin marriage for myself , (result both families my aunte and my mother excoummicated eachother till death , a price paid by my mom to stand by me ) , I was asked to convince one of my relative girl very close to me , to agree to forced/arrange marriage ,Once i talked to he r and got her view point , i told her parents Do not Force and I also do not agree or will be part of your plan ( result , parents agreed but the girl did not get married at all , a price paid by her this time for standing up to a wrong practice ! ) , I married a lady of my own choice against the wishes of my elders (result I was castigated to be a rebel and called names by my elder offsprings ) , I refused another cultural act , allowing my wife to name her children herslef aganist the family and traditional rule of giving this right to the grand parents and uncles/aunts ( result I was given a written lecture on Punjabi and Pakistan culture in this regards and told by my elder off sprins , you have become Western!) , I gave my off spring to choose their spouces themselves (result I was excommunicated by at least one of my elder offsprings for a decade or so because some how it transpired later , the plans were to get into cousin marriages !) I am writing this all to underline just one Point .... Walk the Talk , preach what you do and do what you preach .. In this process I had encountered many problems and many hurdles BUT I did what I had come to know from my general and as well as Islamic education as the right one to up hold and stand for it . I hope all of you who are saying these things are wrong , antiislamic,antisocial , Will stand up and Deliver too , when the goping gets tough , you can recognise the men from boys only then ........... Be MEN Of YOUR DEEDS , God Bless all of you
Sikandar
June 25, 2012 4:14 pm
we call ourselves muslims and follower of Islam yet we do not follow anything it teaches, and this is only one of them..(dont get me started on education..especially girls education)....its def. lack of education and greed (given to girl's parent in shape of dowry...which is also haram) and it is going to take few generations of education....also why does one have to marry their cousins? why cant (sometime lazy..and not all) parents look outside the family which i believe is another "jhalat".....our culture should be Islamic Values...not other way around...things we see in villages are from "time of jhalat" where women had no right...."men and women are equal in Islam" and it is against sharia law to have two people married without their consent...
Samrina
June 25, 2012 11:27 am
The elements of forced marriage are a crime in every country ie, kidnap, rape, child abuse etc. Parents don't see forced marriage as doing wrong however, forced marriage is wrong and education is needed. Young people can create change and change has to come from within the communities forced marriage happens. Victims find it hard to leave the forced marriage after its happened so prevention work needs to happen beforehand. Lets not turn this into a religious debate and lets talk about it and find practical solutions to help prevent forced marriages. Your childish comments about religion are not going to help the victims of forced marriage so please keep them to yourself.
Pramod
June 25, 2012 11:18 am
Most marriages in India also are arranged. But now a days they allow to meet girl and boy and ask them whether they are interested to marry each other. So it does not look that bad. But i think some 30-40 years back it would have same like Ali.
DDate
June 29, 2012 4:33 pm
This crime has to STOP!!!
Nauman
June 25, 2012 8:19 am
Sadly, this is deeply ingrained in muslim parents and hence it has become a part of the muslim culture. Anyone digressing from or questioning it has to face severe consequences like honor killings. Majority of cases involve muslims. So this problem may not just vanish. I just pity those muslims who consider them the best of the creations and justify these acts. There are many educated muslims who actually justify these acts. UK is an example where the police has its hands full. Stop blaming everything on lack of education; the solution is to treat this as a crime as severe as exploitation because crime is not limited to educated individuals.
shankar
June 26, 2012 9:08 am
If forced marriage is against what the Quran says all parents who indulge in forced marriages should be tried as per Sharia laws, should they not be?
Saqib
June 25, 2012 3:42 pm
I think you are contradicting yourself aren't you? If educated people have this problem then it has to do with the society they are in...and that can only point towards their lifestyle..which is essentially their culture...
irfan elahi
June 26, 2012 9:01 am
well forced marriages are a sin in islam first of all , second pakistani culture was created not just 65 years ago it has been around for last 500 years or so with no education whether its quranic or earthly . mulims have lived with hindus and others celebrating festivities and mxing up so many traditions together. u will find to surprise that we share so many sacred traditions with hindus , but i came to this conclusion that i cant blame this to my parents because their parents and great great great grand parents had lived shared values and customs so now its a generation gap. the education iam getting my parents didnt get that so it makes me questions so many things which my parents will never tihink of. i respect my parents , but i see myself as a rebel in a good way though . i have so many loopholes in my cuture and unislamic . i told my parents straight up i cant be part of such culture traditions but i will follow which are progressive islamic and against dark ages. islam is a very liberal and progressive religon islam has nothing to do with our culture. remember islam brought pagan arabs from that period so we are the youth and we can bring that lime light back through education and islam only.
AHA
June 25, 2012 11:01 am
@Asad –While I agree with you in that this has to be witha lack of ‘education’ (perhaps ‘awareness’ is a better description), I cannot derecognize the reality that this is a widespread problem across the Muslim world including Pakistan. Therefore, I do not know whether you (and I and many other that I know) who would reject this practice represent the ‘Tradition’.
dhiraj garg
June 25, 2012 2:29 pm
Hats off to the brave woman Sameem Ali !! force marriage is a social problem and must be solved socially too. good and strict laws are no doubt required but more awareness, change in mental attitude in the society as a whole is also required. All so-called educated people are requested to come forward to stop this inhumane act to prove the worth of their so-called education.
Asad
June 25, 2012 7:46 am
Which tradition? My family has no such disgusting traditions. It has more to do with a lack of education than any tradition I've heard of.
Asif
June 25, 2012 1:06 pm
Quran Chapter 4 Verse 19- "O People who Believe! It is not lawful for you to forcibly become the women's heirs; and do not restrain women with the intention of taking away a part of bridal money you gave them, unless they openly commit the shameful; and deal kindly with them; and if you do not like them, so it is possible that you dislike a thing in which Allah has placed abundant good."
Madan
June 26, 2012 12:44 am
Pramod is right and this method of matrimony applies to educated muslims in India to a certain degree.
Amita
June 26, 2012 6:57 am
'Not hate parents'...this may be her personal views and not the collective views of all the victims...she may be trying to save the people (parents) who are the real culprits...
Anonymous
June 26, 2012 8:19 am
Very well said!
Bilal
June 26, 2012 8:57 pm
sharia laws only exist in saudi arabia. Parents who are involved in forced marriage can be tried on humanitarian grounds. it's against the law, UK has the heighest rate of forced marriages. what I do not understand is that when parents move to UK, become citizen, raise their children in an open society and THEN expect them to accept marry whoever they want, that's hypocracy, it's all in the upbringing, let's face it, most of pakistanis are chasing the "pound" than matters like raising their kids, and there inlies your problem, priority is to make money and they ignore the rest, what else you expect then?
Neerja
June 27, 2012 1:47 am
Jago Pakistan jago
millerd
June 27, 2012 7:43 am
Ali's , narrative is a shame , it is shame for parents who call themselves Muslims and in the name of values customs and traditions we commit such horrific crimes against our own children. Force marriages are not acceptable in Islam. In fact the nikah in duress is haram. Unfortunately parents move to live in the west are lured by better life and opportunity. for their children . What they fail to realize is the socio cultural effects of this move on their children. Unless they are willing to allow their children the freedom of choice and associations and accept the values that western environment promotes , they should think twice before deciding to make the move.
Marriage
June 28, 2012 9:07 am
Forced marriages have decreased now. There are laws made in many countries which allow them to marry a partner of their choice after they cross 18yrs. Nobody can force them against their will.
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