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Afghan bride confronts missing major

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Ms Ahmadzai says that she has proof on video of her marriage to the army officer

By Moska Najib
BBC News, Delhi

Early morning prayers at Hazrat Nizammudin, a sufi shrine in the Indian capital, Delhi.

In the main hall of the onion-shaped dome people are milling around, their hands clasped in prayer.

Men entering the shrine pay their respects as women huddle outside, peering in.

Sitting by a pillar and praying is 20-year-old Sabra Ahmadzai. She left her home, Afghanistan, for the first time in November of last year.

Along with personal belongings which included copies of her wedding video and marriage certificate, she boarded a flight to India to confront the man she says is her missing husband - a doctor in the Indian Army.

Taboo

Ms Ahmadzai was working as a Hindi translator in a hospital in Kabul where she met her husband, Maj Chandrashekhar Pant.

Bride in India
Bigamy is illegal in India

She is now pursuing a case of bigamy.

"We were together for about 15 days when he was transferred back to India," she says.

"He promised to return with his parents and left. In six months he only called me three times, and in his last call he told me Sabra you are young and you can marry again - I have two kids and a wife from before."

In Afghanistan marrying a foreigner is still taboo.

But Ms Ahmadzai said that she decided to go ahead after he converted to Islam and after receiving the consent of her family and relatives.

Dressed in a white gown and holding hands, her wedding video shows the couple walking down the aisle, cutting their wedding cake and performing the ceremonial rituals of an Islamic marriage.

Ms Ahmadzai says she waited for two years for her husband to return but the talk in the neighbourhood of her abandonment became unbearable.

'Three options'

"People would often ask me why hasn't your husband returned? Does he even call you? I was quite upset by all this, so I decided to come to India and confront him."

Indian soldiers
The army says that it takes bigamy cases very seriously

Having travelled two days on a local bus to the small hill town of Pithoragarh in the Himalayas, Ms Ahmadzai met Maj Pant on the hallway of the local hospital.

She says he was taken aback by her unexpected visit to his hometown.

"I told him I will give you three options and you can choose what suits you best," she said.

"When a girl marries she lives in her husband's house, so either you let me live with your family here in India, or you and your family come with me to Afghanistan. And if you are not happy with either of these choices, then at least come to Afghanistan and divorce me in front of the same cleric and the same people."

Ms Ahmadzai - who has now been in India for more than six weeks - is grateful for the support of local students and non-government organisations (NGOs).

With their help, she has already registered a complaint with the police. Her lawyer, Ravindra Garia, says they have a solid case against the major.

"Sabra is here, there are video CDs of her marriage and she has a wedding certificate which is a documentary proof that this marriage actually took place," he says.

However, according to the local police, Maj Pant has said his picture in the wedding video has been fabricated.

"Chandrashekhar Pant denies that any marriage ceremony has taken place and believes that these photographs are actually cut and paste," Police superintendent of Pithoragarh, PS Rawat told the BBC.

'Disciplinary action'

While an inquiry is in progress, the Indian Army Chief, Deepak Kapoor, says action will only be taken if the major is found guilty.

Delhi
The bride has thanked all who have helped her in Delhi

"If an inquiry reveals that an army man is at fault, he is automatically liable to appropriate disciplinary action and it will be immediately taken. The army does not believe in the philosophy of shielding a perpetrator of any kind of irregularity, corruption or crime," he said.

Gen Kapoor says the army has done its own investigation and has found a certain "dichotomy" between army records and what Ms Ahmadzai claims in her complaint to the police.

"The dichotomy stems from the fact that her so-called marriage took place in December. As per our records and according to the details of the officer on the mission to Afghanistan, he was there from January to November. So there is a basic dichotomy in what the FIR (First Information Report) has said and what the officer has done when he was detailed there," Gen Kapoor said.

Meanwhile, for Sabra Ahmadzai this is a battle that must be fought - even if it takes many years.

"I have learnt that you should not marry outside your community," she says, "and if you do then you should inquire and be careful."

As she walks out of the shrine into the winding lanes of Nizamuddin, she talks of returning to Afghanistan and opening an NGO that will help other Afghan women from being exploited in these difficult times her country is facing.

"This fight is not just for me," she says while nibbling on prayer sweets and rose petals, "but for people who are facing similar situations and they must fight it out."

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