A bond for seven lifetimes: Hindu marriage law on divorce in Bangladesh

What Hindu marriage law says about divorce

A bond for seven lifetimes

Hindu divorce laws are in need of reform /BIGSTOCK

Barnali (a pseudonym), a 29-year-old Hindu woman, came to me with a complaint about how she was being abused and tortured by her husband. She comes from Chittagong, and is a doctor by profession. 

She was in a relationship with Sudip, a businessman who resides in Dhaka. Barnali’s family had objected to their wedding. After being in a relationship for five years, Barnali left her home. The two got married in a private temple ceremony. 

Gradually, their parents accepted their relationship, and the couple began living together. After a few months, they registered their marriage under the Hindu Marriage Registration Act 2012. For two years, they lived happily. 

But things took a horrific turn soon after, when Barnali went back to work. By that time, she gave birth to a beautiful girl. Her husband began demanding for her to leave her job if she wanted to keep their marriage intact.

He barred her from interacting with her co-workers. By then she realized that there was no way out for her — she agreed to his demands and left her job.

She thought the nightmare was over, but the torment continued. He terrorized her all the time, and even kept a mistress on the side. He would beat Barnali for almost anything: Going out without his permission, keeping contact with friends, serving him anything less than a nice, hot meal.

Finally, refusing to suffer anymore, she decided to live on her own. The evidence of abuse is imprinted all over her body and face. 

In Bangladesh, marriage and divorce-related issues are governed by the respective religious laws of an individual. The marriage and divorce of Hindus are governed by their religious laws. In India, the Hindu laws for marriage and divorce have been modernized by statutory intervention by the Indian parliament. 

Unfortunately, the Hindu matrimonial issues have not been modified. Recently, there has been a recent advancement through the requirement of registration (optional) in any Hindu marriage, but Hindu divorces are not allowed in Bangladesh. Therefore, the option of divorce for a victim such as Barnali is yet unavailable in Bangladesh. 

Marriage in Hindu law is regarded as an indissoluble union between husband and wife, and joins two individuals for life. It allows them to pursue duty, possessions, physical desires, and ultimate spiritual release together. It is a union of two individuals as husband and wife, and is recognized by law.

In the Hindu religion, marriage is followed by traditional rituals for consummation.

In fact, marriage is not considered complete or valid until consummation. In terms of religion, a Hindu marriage is considered as a bond for seven lifetimes. So, divorce is not recognized in Hindu law. 

Under the Hindu Married Women’s Right to Separate Residence and Maintenance Act 1946, a Hindu “married woman” can seek separate residence, but there are certain grounds:

1. The husband is suffering from a disease not contracted from her
2. The husband treats her with such cruelty that it becomes unsafe or undesirable to live with him
3. The husband abandons her without her consent or against her wish
4. The husband marries again
5. The husband ceases to be a Hindu, by converting to another religion
6. The husband keeps a mistress or habitually resides with a concubine
7. If there is some other justifiable cause

However, a married Hindu woman shall not be entitled to separate residence and maintenance from her husband if she is unchaste or ceases to be a Hindu by converting to another religion, or fails, without sufficient cause, to comply with a decree of a competent court for the restitution of conjugal rights.

The suffering of women in our society is the stuff of legends. Many Hindu girls in our country stay in abusive marriages and endure the harassment of their partners —  simply because of the fact that the laws of the land do not allow them the right to file for divorce.

For centuries, these women have been neglected and exploited by a male-dominated society. Women had to fight hard at every step to reach where they are today.

Laws cannot save a fraying relationship or mend a broken heart. But it can at least end a woman’s suffering by giving her relief from an abusive marriage. 

Miti Sanjana is a Barrister-at-law from Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, an Advocate of Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and an activist.

First published on Dhaka Tribune



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