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Kumari or not

  • Published at 06:03 pm August 31st, 2019
Marriage
Representational photo: Bigstock

Recent changes to our marriage registration form show true progress

Traditionally, in our country, Muslims get married following Muslim marriage laws and tie themselves in a holy relationship. In this matrimonial context, the Muslim marriage certificate or Nikahnama bears significance as the contract in which wedding terms and conditions are mentioned for the bride and groom.

Importantly, the form of Nikahnama has been prescribed under Section 9 of the Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration) Act 1974. However, according to this abovementioned act, column 5 of the Nikahnama asks: “Konna kumari, bidhoba, othoba talak prapto ki na?” 

Therefore, the bride has to make a statement in the marriage certificate regarding her marital status and sexual history, specifically stating whether she is “maiden” or “widowed” or “divorced.”

What safeguards women’s rights?

Column 5 is objectionable and contradictory to Article 43 of our constitution, which guarantees that every citizen shall have the right to privacy of their correspondence and other means of communication. So, a woman has the constitutional right to maintain her privacy.

In my opinion, asking to state whether a bride is maiden or not is a breach of the right to privacy, and obviously disrespectful for a woman.

In a similar vein, the abovementioned column is also contradictory to Article 28(1) of the constitution which guarantees that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Hence, it can never be supported if a bride has to curtail her constitutional rights due to gender discrimination.

Also, there is a prescribed way that individuals are entitled to enjoy the same human rights and fundamental freedoms. Women are not exceptions. 

Comparing this issue with a case in the Indian Supreme Court, it was held in Sharda v Dharmpal (2003) that “privacy” was defined as the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one’s private life or affairs. Thus, this principle of this case also safeguards a bride on this issue.

I am quite certain that many people, especially feminists, have thought that if the bride is bound to do so, why not the groom as well? However, the High Court Division of the Supreme Court has given an answer to this question.

It is noted that a writ petition filed jointly in 2014 by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Naripokkho, and Bangladesh Mohila Parishad of the High Court challenged the legality of column 5 of the Kabinnama form, which included the word “kumari,” “widower,” and “divorced” before the name of the bride.

Following that, a High Court bench of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Khizir Ahmed Choudhury gave the direction to the government to amend the form of Kabinnama excluding the word “Kumari” in front of the bride’s name and including the words unmarried, widower, or divorced before the name of the groom.

The High Court has also asked the government to include clause 4(A) in the form, which will stipulate the marital status of a groom, stating “married, widower, or divorcee” -- which is a good move. However, the court did not make any authoritative instructions towards the usage of the words “divorcee” and “widower” in the marriage form.

So, the changes to column 5 of the marriage registration form (which was designed during the Pakistan era) have yet to come into effect since the independence of our country. Beyond a shred of doubt, this step should bring equality and keep up the interrelation between our law, life, and culture.

In the end, this step should maintain an individual’s right to privacy. Also, the obstacles that slow down the march towards gender equality should be removed, and true equality will be established. 

Shahriar Bin Wares is a student of Law, North South University.

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