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Rally protests new Hindu marriage law

Activists say law would protect women; protesters see threat to ancient traditions

Protesters rally against the bill that would radically affect Hindu marriage customs Protesters rally against the bill that would radically affect Hindu marriage customs
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • August 27, 2012
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Traditionalist Hindus rallied in Dhaka on Friday to condemn a government proposal to reform age-old Hindu family laws.

The Hindu Marriage Registration Bill 2012 would make Hindu marriage registration mandatory and establish inheritance, divorce and maintenance rights for Hindu women.

The protesters have described it as “a blow to religious sentiments” of Hindu people and “an insult to Hindu rules and family tradition.” They are demanding that the government scraps the proposal.

“For over 5,000 years, Hindus have got married by the traditional system that requires no registration. We have no provision for divorce or polygamy,” said Supreme Court lawyer Ashok Kumar Ghosh on behalf of the protesters.

“We might seem too conservative but it’s all about keeping our traditions alive,”  he added.

“This move is propelled by NGOs who are foreign-funded,” said Dr. Tapan Bagchi, deputy director of Bangla Academy, a state-run cultural institute. “For thousands of years Hindus have followed the traditional customs for marriage and inheritance. Problems can be solved within the family. No law is needed.”

The bill was presented to parliament in July and is expected to be passed before the end of the year. Its contentious features include an amendment that would make polygamy, which is reportedly increasing among Hindu males, a punishable offense.

While conservatives oppose it, many Hindu women and rights activists have welcomed the proposed law.

Despite her upper class background, Bani Roy typifies the predicament of many Hindu women. She says she was constantly abused, physically and mentally, throughout her 12-year marriage.

“I endured torture,” she said. “My former husband re-married but I can’t, because I don’t have any marriage document. Also, I can’t demand any maintenance from him.”

Ayesha Khanam, president of the leading women’s rights group Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, said that Hindu women in Bangladesh should be entitled to the same rights as they are in India and Nepal.

“We have seen how Hindu women are abused, tortured and deprived,” she said. “Muslim and Christian women get a share of their fathers' and husbands' property, Hindu women get nothing. The new law must be passed to bring an end to discrimination.”
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