On February 17 this year, much to the surprise of many Bangladeshis, especially those from the Hindu community, Pakistan’s Senate passed the landmark Hindu Marriage Bill 2017, which will take care of the legal, familial issues of the minority community living there. The bill now awaits the signature of the president of Pakistan, a mere formality, to become a law as it has already received the approval of the majority in the senate.
Meanwhile in Bangladesh, the rights of Hindu women are being ignored by the state in absence of a family law to safeguard us from social injustices.
As a Bangladeshi Hindu woman, I can appreciate the move the Pakistan government has made after all these years to ensure proper regulation of marriages of the minorities who constitute 1.6 percent of its total population.
Hindus in Pakistan have obviously welcomed the move. The law would provide for Pakistani Hindus’ marriage registration, judicial separation, divorce – all the civil rights of Hindus in Bangladesh are denied, since the country still preserves the age-old perception of Hinduism that the bond between a Hindu couple is eternal and so should not be dissolved even if the marriage has irrevocably broken down. Cruelty, torture for dowry, forced underage marriage, husbands abandoning wives and remarrying – nothing can be a justifiable reason for relief from an unwanted marriage.
Only one law that is applicable for aggrieved Hindu women in Bangladesh is the Hindu Married Women’s Right to Separate Residence and Maintenance Act 1946. This means that women can seek separate maintenance by their husbands in court in certain situations.
But since Bangladeshi law doesn’t require Hindu marriages to be registered, a man has always the scope to deny having ever been married to the complainant without a marriage document and get away with the injustices he has been carrying out against his wife. He can even go on to marry as many times as he wishes.
It sounds bizarre, right? But that has been in practice in the 21st century without anyone in power even blinking or frowning at it.
Women suffer silently when no one pays any heed to their misery, as if their lives don’t matter, as if they were born as sub-humans to give services and comfort to men. So when men want to get rid of them, women should be okay with that in the name of ‘marital obligation’ or so-called religious vows.
When the bill was approved, Senator Nasreen Jalil of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced, “This was unfair — not only against the principles of Islam but also a human rights violation – that we have not been able to formulate a personal family law for the Hindus in Pakistan”. Questions arise, why did it take so long to realise this? Why is Bangladesh still in a state of denial of the social menaces that are threatening lives of Hindu women?
Hindu hardliners here see any change to the British law as a threat to the existence of minorities. I wonder who they are – men, right? They would understandably oppose anything that would curtail their infinite dominance. And women who oppose any amendment to the fossilised law are surely enjoying the cocoon they are living in and a life without struggle.
My plea to them is: “Please try to put yourself in the shoes of those who are suffering in this society that is so unfair to women”.