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Bangladesh dropping ‘virgin’ in marriage form isn’t enough. Just look at rest of the form

What Bangladesh needs is a uniform civil code. Cursory changes in patriarchal laws will only give women cursory human rights.

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Bangladesh’s top court has ruled that women no longer need to declare if they are ‘kumaris’ or virgins in column number five in marriage registration forms for Muslims.

But will changing a column in a form rectify the minds of misogynists?

After instant triple talaq was criminalised in India, many thought that it was the beginning of ensuring equal rights for Muslim women. Similarly, because the Bangladesh high court has ordered the removal of the moniker for virgin from marriage registration forms and ordered markers for men, many think it will begin an era of equal rights for Bangladeshi women. It couldn’t be further from the truth.

Because religion does not consider women to be equal, laws based on it will never guarantee equality either. Unless a uniform civil code premised on equal rights is instituted, just cursory rectification of religious laws, will only earn women cursory human rights – nothing lasting or substantial.

Also read: Essential to distinguish religion from practices for Muslim women to progress

What will it change?

After this move, will Bangladeshis now accept premarital sex, or a divorced woman’s sexuality, or that of an older woman? Most people still believe that a wife exists only to satisfy the sexual needs of her husband. And forget sexuality, even a young man and a young woman sitting together on a bench in the park can invite censure and accusations of indecency or immorality.

Even today, when it comes to choosing a bride, most men want a virgin woman, as if what they desire is only a vagina, not a real person. Women are nothing but objects to such men. So, before getting married they feel the need to verify if the bride has been with someone else before – which is why these clauses tend in appear in marriage forms.

Wasn’t there a custom where people used to put a white sheet of cloth on the marital bed? This was just to ascertain if the bride bled or not while consummating the marriage. If, by chance, she did not bleed then immediately, the groom and his family would start doubting her, leading to unthinkable torture. On the other hand, even if a man is unfaithful, it bothers no one.

Also read: Triple talaq non-issue, empower us through education: Muslim women in Rajasthan

Other columns of patriarchy

After the revisions in column five, will the rest of the form immediately become unproblematic? Not at all. Problems remain in columns 13, 14 and 15 of the form that deal with meher. Why must brides be given meher? A dowry is what the groom’s family demands from the bride’s. A mehr or meher is the bride price that the groom’s family gives to the bride. If dowries are prohibited, then why has meher not been prohibited as well?

Similar discriminatory attitudes can be very easily discerned from columns 18, 19, 21 and 22 of the Muslim marriage registration form. Column 18 asks whether a husband has granted his wife the ‘right’ to seek divorce, and if he has, then under what conditions. In most cases, column 18 in the form is left blank. The husbands don’t want to give their wives the right to divorce them. However, there are no questions asked about the husband’s right to divorce. Column 19 of the marriage registration form seeks to confirm if a husband’s right to divorce has been compromised in any way.

But if a woman wants to divorce, she is given the right to by the court only under specific conditions – if the husband has been missing for at least four years, if he has been in jail for more than seven years, if he has been unable to perform his conjugal duties for more than three years, if he was impotent right from the beginning of the marriage, if he has been suffering from mental health issues for more than two years or has been afflicted with leprosy or some severe venereal disease, or if he has physically abused his wife. What if she doesn’t love her husband anymore or loves someone else?

A man, on the other hand, does not have to furnish a reason as to why he wishes to divorce his wife. The real question then is why have such bigoted clauses have continued to thrive in marriage laws?

Columns 21 and 22 of the registration form deal with a man’s right to marry multiple times. Nowhere in the registration forms is there anything similar about a wife’s right to marry more than one man.

Also read: 25 yrs ago, today I lost my home Bangladesh. Language is my only country now: Taslima Nasreen

A drop in the ocean

Changing ‘kumari’ to ‘unmarried’ in one column doesn’t purify the form of patriarchy. And how does one purify society?

Any attempt at changing social mores invites the wrath of a million misogynists. And, in spite of it, if someone emerges who does not care about their wrath and wants to reform mindsets, they are either driven out of the country or hacked to death.

Nevertheless, the high court has had the good sense of rectifying a rule, no matter how tiny the error or how insignificant the move in the veritable ocean of prejudices. That in itself is a huge deal in a nation of misogynist patriarchs. I applaud such a step.

The author is a writer and commentator. Views are personal.

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  1. What a toxic article. This person is clearly a corrupted feminist against men who further wishes to elevate women. The hypocrisy is visible and many contradictions to be made. Apparently the author has a male’s mindset to make generalised statements. Inequalities in faith? Faith are about paths to God. Most other things are cultural law since legitimately men are stationed with more burdens in particular faiths. The spreading of white sheets was done by more western newlyweds. This author is probably Hindu or atheist at most (highest anti of devil creed), definitely Anti-Islamic and Anti-Muslim, doesn’t even understand the concept of mhr. It’s not actual dowry, people have labelled it as so. Mhr is an obligatory gift for the woman. It’s not of the faith from the derogatory caste system which belittles people of lower castes and torture people from eating meat prohibited to themselves that they see as holy. This article is missing a lot of context and expandature, instead nit-picking without the intentions of elaborating. I think most people in the world wish for their partners to be a virgin if they are seeking marriage. Uh, because by faith it would be more difficult to marry more than one man, especially being impregnated by multiple at different times – they may all want their own kids – when will she get a break. As typical breadwinners, it wouldn’t even make sense. Seeking divorce right has nothing to do with the faith, that is a law and questioning of the nation itself. Misogynist patriarchs? So India. Those people that rape and kill women on a daily basis, kill their own daughters and commit female infanticide. There is more gender inequality in Hinduism than anything else. This sort of thing can happen in any country. Hindu girls have been killed for wearing jeans or eating beef. Hindus secretly eat beef all the time here abroad. In Hinduism “A man alone has the privilege to transmit his knowledge and powers through a transmission ceremony to his elder son, and women are not even allowed to witness it. Women should not be allowed to live freely or on her own. She must be always under the care of a male person, father, brother, husband, son or relation, but never a a male who is not any of these.” In the past, the plight of the widows was even more pitiable. Hindu widows: Widows were not allowed to participate in marriage ceremonies or remarry. They were morally held responsible for the premature death of their husbands and they had to carry that guilt and the burden of shame for the rest of their lives. Men in Hinduism can marry as much as they want without justification, especially higher castes. The Manusmriti (9.1-3) suggest that women should be controlled, and kept under watch since they cannot be trusted. Yet we are told of any of this

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