'Proper education and financial independence is the best dowry that any parent can ever give to their daughter'
Rita, a lovely 20 year old, hailed from a small town in the northern part of Bangladesh. Her parents arranged her marriage with a charming groom, a grocer from the same locality. They got married with lavish celebrations. Soon after her marriage, she started to feel troubled at her in-laws’ home. Her husband began torturing her physically and mentally for one reason or the other and her in-laws too started throttling her. Eventually, she was told by her husband and in laws that her parents hadn’t paid adequate dowry. The husband and in-laws had asked for her hand, not because she was a suitable bride but because of dowry to ensure the financial independence of the groom’s family after marriage. Her family was unable to meet their illegal demands which eventually led to her divorce. Rita was forced by her parents to get married before she completed her education. From childhood, she was taught that marriage is for lifetime.
Rita’s family struggles for subsistence. Misery and woe are indispensable parts of their lives. They cannot afford the costs of a lawsuit for the return of the (nominal) dower money, which could run for years.
A divorced Muslim woman is entitled to maintenance till the period of iddat and no further maintenance afterward. Iddat is the period of time that a woman must wait to remarry as a consequence of nullification of her marriage with her husband because of his death, divorce or one of the reasons of annulment of the marriage. As such, Muslim law recognizes wives’ rights to get maintenance during the continuation of marriage, but upon dissolution of marriage, maintenance is provided for only 90 days (Iddat) from the date of official notice! On the other hand, if the wife is pregnant at the time of divorce, she is entitled to maintenance until the birth of the child.
Besides, dower/mahr is a sum or property that a Muslim woman is entitled to get from her husband on marriage. The dower is connected with marriage, not with divorce, and under Muslim law a marriage is not valid without dower. If the dower is not specifically fixed at the time of marriage, law confers the rights of dower upon the wife to effect the marriage. Unfortunately, in majority of the situations in Bangladesh, irrespective of the financial standing of the bridegroom, the dower is not paid out during the marriage. As such, the question of dower arises at the time of divorce. After divorce, if the husband does not pay the dower, the wife has to file the suit to claim the dower within three years after divorce. It is an absolute right of a Muslim women to get the dower even if she initiates the divorce. The existing law makes it far easier for men to divorce.
The woman has to go through a lengthy period of agony because of the poor and narrow opinions of the people of our society at large. Even for urban women, the post-divorce journey is not only heartbreaking but expensive. The law has not secured a woman any financial security after divorce. The amount she receives is very trivial. Moreover, the lengthy legal process also makes it very difficult to recover this nominal dower money and maintenance.
Rita is one of the thousands of dowry victims who are facing such situations almost everyday, somewhere in Bangladesh. Our country needs to have more women’s advocacy groups to carry out campaigns for women to understand their rights by providing adequate information on different laws. Without having proper knowledge of laws and rights, our women live at the mercy of individuals who interpret laws as they think fit. At the same time, we have to increase our efforts to provide proper education to our daughters. Proper education and financial independence is the best dowry that any parent can ever give to their daughter.
Miti Sanjana is a Barrister-at-law from Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and an Advocate of Supreme Court of Bangladesh and an activist