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June 27, 2004

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Hindu women in Bangladesh
Suffering for absence of marriage registration

By Shanchita Sharma

Minati Karmakar in her 20s suffers at her huband's house for inability to bring dowry. Minati's husband tortures her, as she cannot bring dowry money for him. Fed up, one day she leaves her husband's house and returns to her parents. The husband is still after her and insists to return to him with dowry money.

The harassment is too much for her to bear. Minati wants to terminate the marriage. She goes to court and finds to her surprise that the Hindu law does not help her much.

In Bangladesh, Hindu marriages differ from caste to caste. The Hindu marriage rituals have often no lawful ground. So, when the Hindu women want to come out of bad marriages they are in trouble because there is no marriage registration system in the Hindu society in Bangladesh.

Consider the case of Kazali Rani Das, 23. She works as a day-labourer at her village. Her neighbour, Sanjoy Madhu, lured Kazali with a marriage proposal and convinced her. Then they got married and began their conjugal life at the house of Kazali's parents. Before long, Kazali becomes pregnant and Sanjoy is asked to take Kazali to his own house.

Kazali's trouble begins here. It does take long for Kazali to understand that she has fallen into a trap. Sanjoy delays to take Kazali to his house by making false excuses and later disclaims his marriage with her. Kazali is now too helpless to express her plight. Society does not want to believe what she says. She has no official document, as her marriage was not registered.

This is no exception. It happens to thousands of Hindu women in Bangladesh.

According to Hindu social customs, Hindu marriages are solemnised merely through some religious rituals. There is no marriage registration system for Hindu people in Bangladesh. It is surprising that there is also no Hindu marriage law or Hindu marriage register in the country. So, if any Hindu woman suffers in the hands of her in-laws, she does not get legal help.

As per a 1946 law, Hindu women can file cases with courts to only regain the rights to conjugal life. Besides, the Hindu women can file cases under Family Court Ordinance 1985, Dowry Act 1980 and Women and Children Repression Act 2003. But these laws are too inadequate to protect the Hindu women's rights.

A total of 926 marriage cases were received by Ain O Shalish Kendra during July 2003 to February 2004 period. Of them, only 17 cases were related to Hindu women.

Says lawyer Nina Goswami, "Hindu women do not complain much fearing the marriage will break. That fear grips them because divorced Hindu women find it hard to get new husbands. There is no law allowing Hindu widows to remarry."

But the situation is very different in neighbouring India. There are laws in that country to protect the rights of Hindu women such as Widow Marriage Act 1856, Racial Inability Remission Act 1850, Child Marriage Prevention Act 1929 (Amendment 1938), Earned Property Affairs Act 1930, Inheritance Act 1925 and Hindu Women's Rights to Lands Act 1937.

Besides, new laws have been made in India after independence in 1947. These include Hindu Marriage Act 1955, Immature Children's Property Act 1956, Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956, Hindu Inheritance Act 1956 and Special Marriage Act 1960.

Efforts to enact laws to protect Hindu women's rights in Bangladesh are thwarted by conservatives. There are Hindu men who leave their first wives and take second ones, but the same people resist changes for the better.

Although the clauses No 19 (1) and 19 (2) of the constitution carry clear provisions that the state will ensure equal rights to all citizens and remove social and economic disparities, no government came up with steps to reform Hindu laws for protecting Hindu women's rights.

Awami League presidium member Surajit Sen Gupta says, "Hindu laws need to be reformed in our country. But the free democratic environment that is needed for the reforms has not properly developed yet."

Hindu religionist and Professor of Culture and Pali Department of Dhaka University Dr Niranjan Odhikari says, "Marriage registration is as necessary as the babies' birth registration. It will be helpful if Parliament makes laws in this regard."

President of Metropolitan City Universal Puja Committee Swapan Shaha says: "There should be laws to guide Hindu marriage, including rights to divorce because Hindu women are sometimes forced to leave their husbands' houses. In such a case, a woman should be able to obtain legal divorce and take another husband."

Organising Secretary of Bangladesh Mohila Parisad Rakhi Das Purkaistha says, "Marriage registration is a legal right of women. Marriage registration needs to be obligatory to all people irrespective of religion, cast and creed because marriage registration does not disregard religion."

But leaders of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian Oikya Parishad have different views. They think marriage registration is unnecessary for Hindu people. They think Hindu boys believe in single marriage and the number of those who go for polygamy is very few. The leaders say Hindu women will be repressed more if marriage registration and divorce laws are enacted.

A Hindu woman social worker, preferring anonymity, regrets, "People in our country only think of the society. They forget that marriage registration is a right of women". Advocate Nina Goswami also says, "In fact, the Hindu women have no right in our country. But we have nothing to do."

Source : NewsNetwork.

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