Tag Archives: Marriage

Apparently, Only Hindu Marriages Break Down

The working of the Indian legislature is like a mother whose kids are out of control, and she keeps chasing them and cleaning up their mess after them. We work with need-based legislation, rather than initiative legislation which works to achieve the broader goals of our Constitution and culture.  This new hype about divorce being allowed on grounds of “breakdown of marriage” seems good to me as an idea and as a need of society but what disturbs me is the fact that such an amendment is being introduced only in the Hindu Marriage Act, as though people of other religions/communities don’t have an equal right to divorce when they are in a state of irreconcilable misery in their marriages. Of course, the reason for ignoring other personal laws is purely vote bank politics. But there are many aspects of the marriage laws of Hindus as well as non-Hindu religions which are shocking and would stir up great controversies if people would only be made aware of them.

For example, it is widely known that children born of a marriage between a Muslim father and a non-Muslim mother are not entitled to a share in their father’s inheritance. I came to know only recently that the exact same law applies to the inheritance of a Hindu – the children of a Muslim woman born to a Hindu man are not entitled to their father’s property! This is despite a British-made law (the Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850) which provides that conversion to another religion cannot result in the loss of a person’s rights over his family’s property. Shockingly, Hindu law does not discriminate by religion only in terms of inheritance, but also in guardianship. The laws of Hindu Guardianship mandate that a convert to a non-Hindu religion (i.e. Judaism, Islam, Christianity) cannot be a legal guardian of a Hindu child, even if it is his own child.

Another absurdity that recently came to my knowledge was the absolute neglect of the Christian Marriage Act, and its provisions which would be considered ridiculously outdated in any other part of the world. A Christian man has the right to seek divorce on grounds only of adultery, but his wife must prove adultery along with one of the following: incest, bigamy, cruelty,  desertion, etc to have the right to seek divorce. And we judge the Islamic world for their stone age laws! Moreover, a Christian marriage cannot take place at night: a minister who solemnizes a Christian marriage between the hours of 7 pm and 6 am is liable to imprisonment of up to 3 years, with a fine, for his offense! The only exceptions to this law of timing are made for special permissions from the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, or the Roman Catholic Church. Why do foreign churches have the right to bypass Indian laws and why don’t Indian churches have the right to let their members marry at whichever hour pleases them?? According to the laws of all marriages taking place in India, no person below the age of 18 can be legally married. However, several provisions relating to marriages of minors under the Christian Marriage Act have not been repealed or amended.

As for Muslim law, the practice of “triple talaq” is an unacceptable way of divorcing one’s wife in several Islamic countries such as Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria, Bangladesh, and even Pakistan. But in India, this anomaly still flourishes and we cannot foresee an amendment any time in the near future. The case of bigamy and polygamy has affected several women and families who have approached the judiciary for their right to equality under Articles 13 and 14 of the Constitution (providing that laws which violate fundamental rights are void, and that all citizens have a fundamental right to equality including gender and religion equality). The Supreme Court has, however, kept itself away from the controversy of striking down personal laws as unconstitutional – it has maintained the stand that changes in personal laws must be brought about by legislative action, and that personal laws are outside the scope of Article 13. What this essentially means is that as long as the Parliament is sitting quietly, the fundamental rights of individuals can be violated without remedy by the personal laws governing such individuals.

What this calls for is proactive measures by the legislature to seek the good of the people and to enact laws which minimize the inequality that exists and is agitated by controversial personal laws. Ideally, we would like to see this in the form of a Uniform Civil Code. It may not be practical to enact a UCC all at once, but as of now we cannot even see the appearance of the form of one in the distant horizon. Unless the legislature gets its act together and disciplines its children to act according to instruction, instead of chasing after them and being controlled by their demands, our legal system will continue to be hijacked by the Khap Panchayats, the whimsical fatwas of attention-seeking Maulvis and any other player who wants to have a go at it.

Note:  I am not a lawyer. This post has come about as a result of conversations with friends who are lawyers, as well as some internet research.


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A Wife, Made To Order …

My visitors have just left my house, phew! They came unannounced and left me rattled with their conversation. Come May and the Hindu marriage calender is buzzing again. My guests had  come to invite us for their son’s marriage. I am not particularly fond of the couple, still I tried to make conversation by showing an interest in their son’s impending marriage.

“What is the girl doing?”, was my first question. I didn’t need to ask another question, the mother of the would be groom started like I had turned the ignition key of the latest model of imported cars. The girl is an MBA, she very proudly informed us  but she won’t be working, she announced in the same breath. In our family we don’t want our bahus to work outside the house; we refused a few marriage proposals for our son earlier because the girl was insisting on continuing with her profession even after marriage. She sounded like the all powerful and well placed bureaucrats in the government of India who could make or break the careers of many a budding businessmen. It seemed as if  wanting to be financially independent after marriage was some kind of crime. If this was the case why on earth did they want a professionally qualified wife for their  son? Why force a woman to give up her years (read decades) of hard work for a man and his household?

All they wanted for their son was a too-good-to-be-true wife. One who was prepared to finish her professional aspirations so that she can devote her full attention to the big baby in her life — her husband. And about why they wanted an educated wife for their  son, they had an answer. The boy wanted a professionally qualified girl who could be good company to him in ‘society’. To me  it meant a bahu who is more like a trophy won by the boy and his family. The other reason was that an educated mother is always good for the children. What the prospective bride wants, is nobody’s concern. They don’t want her to be financially independent because that would mean an empowered woman who would be in control of her life and take decisions of her own free will.

All this rantings and ramblings by me  no way means that in my opinion women who stay at home looking after their families are less in anyway. My point is that what a woman wants to do should be her choice and not forced on her by the family. It is not that a career woman has an easy ride in our society.  She has to work outside and also double up as a full time  homemaker. I do know of couples where men help their wives in the kitchen although that depends on the the level of confidence of the husband. An insecure man would never like to be seen helping his wife with the  household chores. The point is that women who are forced to sacrifice their  selves to maintain balance in their marriages invariably end up frustrated and disillusioned. It doesn’t matter if they are homemakers or career women.

I am not  sure about who is happier, a woman working outside the house or somebody who has decided to stay at home taking care of the family, it is an individual choice. Some women may happily love to sacrifice their careers for the sake of their family and enjoy it but when they have to do it because of somebody’s ego, it is unfair.


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Before You Say, “I Do”…

After Rakhi Sawant and the endless  will she- won’t she controversies, Rahul Mahajan is ready for a Swayamvar. There is another programme currently being broadcast on Star Plus called Perfect Bride in which apart from prospective bride and groom, the prospective mother-in- law is also involved. It seems that reality shows based on marriages are the current favourites.

While surfing different entertainment television channels, I heard a Sanskrit Shlok on NDTV Imagine which went something like this – Karyeshu Dasi, Karaneshu Manthri; Bhojeshu Mata, Shayaneshu Rambha.. I can hear only this much, after that something else begins. This Sanskrit shlok seems to be the theme of a popular programme . As far as I can understand this shlok means- that an ideal wife works like a servant, advises like a minister, feeds like a mother, makes love like Rambha (a beautiful courtesan in Indra’s darbar) and the expectations go on.. I am sure the expectations are much more from the wife as the shlok continues. This shlok depicts the expectation of an Indian male thousands of years ago, I tried to imagine what a typical Indian male today expects from his wife! I don’t know of any Sanskrit shlok depicting the expectations of a wife so I can’t imagine what a woman in those days expected from her husband. I can try to imagine a young woman’s expectation today from her spouse.

In a culture like ours  marriages are considered to be the make or break moment for the person, his parents and upto a certain extent his or her extended family. What makes two different people risk their whole life, peace of mind and happiness is a mystery to me. I took the plunge more than a couple of decades ago and am quite happy about it. Now when I look back I consider it youthful recklessness. Mine was a an arranged marriage and there was very little in common between the two of us, I guess it was a typical case of opposites attract. We are still very different and I am sure if given a chance we will choose each other as life partners (only life partners, in any other situation we don’t think alike at all :) )  The post is not about me, it is about young boys and girls of marriageable age.

After going through different matrimonial sites I realised that physical appearance is fairly high on most people’s  lists when they go looking for a suitable wife. The mothers I am sure are looking for adeptness with housework. Family background is important for both the parents. For girls in general, compatibility in mental, physical, and material spheres seems to be more important than anything else. Usually in arranged marriages physical and material considerations  i.e. ethnicity, family background, education, looks, etc. seem to be more important than other factors. Practically speaking, other than these there is hardly any thing one can judge before meeting the prospective groom or bride many times.

Relevant questions  which could matter could be-  Do you squeeze the toothpaste tube from the bottom or from the middle or do you replace the lid of the toothpaste after use? How fussy are you about food or are you willing to help your wife in the household chores? Civic sense and etiquettes should be high on the list.

A couple of days ago I  was visiting a friend in the hospital. I had opened the door to enter the gallery leading to her room when a young man just walked through the door as though it had been opened for him without even smiling, nodding or saying thank you. I don’t expect chivalry from young men anymore but this looked rude. A young man I know used to say that the person he was looking for should be young, not very well educated and completely malleable. He  said, he would prefer a small town girl to somebody  from a metro because they are ready to adapt to the new family better. I haven’t met him after he got married but I am curious to know how is he faring in his role as a husband. Another young boy I met wants to marry a well educated girl, MBA or any other professional qualification but wants her to stay at home and manage the house. When I asked him why does he want a professionally qualified girl if he is looking for a home maker, his answer was that he has a reputation to protect. A typical MCP I thought! There is no dearth of boys and girls living in the world of their dreams and waiting for their made to order spouses.

It is said that  matches are made in heaven and solemnised on earth, If it was true there should have been no breakups and no divorces. There are no guarantees!


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A Symbol Of Hope With No Hope Of Her Own

Mukhtaran Mai, the brave Pakistani woman who was gang raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council  became a symbol of hope for oppressed women in male dominated and regressive societies. She was raped on the order of the  village council as a punishment for the actions of  her younger brother who was accused of having illicit relations with a woman from a rival tribe. Mukhtaran Bibi challenged her attackers in court, succeeded in getting them punished and won international accolades for her bravery. With her head held high she runs several schools, a woman’s help group, and an ambulance service  in her village. A group of police officers were deployed to protect her after she was threatened by the  relatives of the rapists to try to stop her from pressing charges. She recently got married to police constable  Nasir Abbas Gabol who was deputed to protect  her if she was attacked.  She is his second wife.

Gabol had a hard time persuading  Mukhtaran to marry.  He had been trying  for the last few years  but formally proposed a year and a half  ago but she refused, after which  tried to kill himself by consuming  sleeping pills. A day after he attempted suicide, his first wife and parents met Mukhtaran’s  parents but she  still refused. Gabol then threatened to divorce his first wife Shumaila, who along with his parents and sisters had  tried to talk  Mukhtaran into marrying him, taking on the status of  his  second wife. Gabol’s  sisters are married to Shumaila’s brothers, and these women will in turn be abandoned by their husbands if their sister is divorced. “I am a woman and can understand the pain and difficulties faced by another woman,”  Mukhtaran Mai said, when asked why she accepted Gabol. However, she did put a few conditions. He had to transfer the ownership of his ancestral house to his first wife, and he had to agree to give her a plot of land and a monthly stipend (which cannot be called alimony, as she continues to be legally married to him).

Muktharan has been victimized again. She is  the SECOND wife, and that of a man who  coerced her into becoming his wife  by threatening his first wife. Gabol misused Mukhtar’s compassion and the reality that three women would be abandoned if she did not relent. Mukhtar relented and Constable Gabol succeeded. Marrying a man who threatens to kill himself and destroy his own family if she refused is the result of  emotional blackmail. I am not sure if there is any law agaist such marriages. The only positive that comes out of this marriage is that she set the conditions for the marriage, but is this enough?

Both the women is this story, the first wife and Mukhtaran Mai have been wronged. Can’t women live without male protectors? Marriage is not  a calculation in survival but a romantic exercise borne out of love. The fact that in this case the man forcing her to marry her was the person entrusted by the government to be her protector, makes it worse.


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Mera Kuch Samaan Tumhare Paas Pada hai..

Mera kuch saaman tumhare paas pada hai, wo lauta do– this melodious and very romantic  song  from a movie called Ijaazat, written by Gulzar and beautifully sung by Asha Bhonsle came to my mind when I read about this  incident which raised  many, many questions in my heart. Dr Richard Batista had  not only given his heart to his wife, but donated his kidney as well to save her life. I’ve not heard of too many other men who have done that for their wives( https://pr3rna.wordpress.com/2008/02/08/gender-bias-in-kidney-transplant/). However, now that he is divorcing his wife, he wants either the kidney back or a compensation of $ 1.5 m.  Dr Batista married Dawnell in 1990 and donated the kidney to her in 2001. She filed for divorce in 2005 and  they are still waiting for settlement. This is definitely not like demanding our gifts back from our friends after we had those trivial fights in our childhood. In the case of Dr Batista the poor guy will end up paying alimony and a share of property as per rules.  Life is not fair, a donated organ is not a marital asset to be divided.

This is not the only incident related to alimony which raises serious questions about the role of money in marriage and in divorce. Last year there was another weird  incident reported in newspapers.  Lawrence Roach, had argued that his 55-year-old ex-wife’s decision to switch genders and change her name from Julia to Julio Roberto Silverwolf voided their  divorce agreement. The judge however, ruled that in the eyes of the law, nothing changed significantly enough to free Roach from his $1,250-a-month obligation. According to the judge sex-change surgery cannot legally change a person’s birth gender and Roach is  technically  not paying alimony to a man.  The language of the divorce decree was clear-  Roach agreed to pay alimony until his ex-wife dies or remarries, and neither of those things had happened.  Imagine,  if  the divorced husband went through a sex change, and  petitioned  the court to be relieved of alimony because he is no longer a he, but a she, what would the judgement be?


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An Empowered Woman…

Kosi in Bihar and  Mamta in West Bengal have inflicted deep wounds on the reputation of the females in India. No amount of puja and offerings  has softened the rage and fury of the Kosi river and all the efforts to placate the fiery  Mamta di have failed. Tatas are all set to decline the hospitability of the red brigade. Still all is not lost for the women of India. There were a few among us  who created positive news in the last fortnight.

Religious duties have nearly always been a male prerogative, not only in Islam but also in other religions. There is only one female Hindu pundit I have heard of so far. Catholic women priests are resisted by the conservatives in Europe and elsewhere. Islam is considered to be the most conservative of religions when it comes to women. Sayeda Hamid, a muslim woman created history by  acting  as a ‘qazi’ and solemnising a ‘nikah’ ceremony in Lucknow last week. Imran Naeem, Ph.D. scholar from AMU, and Naesh Hasan, founder member of a social organisation, Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan were the groom and bride. The Nikah took place according to the Muslim tenets. All this took place in the presence of eminent citizens of the city. The introduction as well as the vows were read in English and four women stood up as witnesses. According to Sayeda Hamid who is a member of the  Planning Commission and an expert on Islamic studies, although there has been no precedent of women conducting a nikah in recent Muslim history, they are known to have attained the position of qazi and mufti in times of the Prophet. Shia scholar and priest Maulana Kalbe Jawaad sees nothing wrong with the ritual-“There is nothing wrong if a woman conducts a nikah if she has the same knowledge as her male counterpart,” Jawwad said. His Sunni counterpart Maulana Khalid Rasheed, did not approve of it. ‘Apart from the fact that it should have been performed by a male, it was also technically wrong and unacceptable that a Sunni couple’s nikah should be performed by a person belonging to the Shia sect,’ Rasheed said. Not surprising! If the bride and groom were Shia and a Sunni had solemnised the nikah Maulana Kalbe Jawaad would have reacted the same way. It is a part of his job profile. What is surprising is that there was very little protest and coverage in the media. An event like this would have been converted into a war of TRPs. There could be two reasons for it- There was another strong woman (Mamta Banerjee) hogging all the headlines and our press follows ‘one woman gets publicity at one time rule’ or our media likes to focus on the negative issues only. Some negative news somewhere in a village in western UP like the muslim woman who was forced to divorce her husband because she was raped by her father-in-law and the village maulvi pronounced that it was haram for her to live with her husband. Channel after channel made a pilgrimage to the God forsaken place. That woman, her husband, brother, sister, cousin, neighbours, the neighbours’ cat all were  interviewed on prime time. Sayeeda Hamid’s fete wasn’t considered important enough. I consider it a very big step in the direction of woman empowerment.


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