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Old November 18, 2011, 04:49 PM
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Zeeshan Zeeshan is offline
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Afsan Chowdhury

When is divorce good news? In incidents like Farzana’s

November 16, 2011


The recent news about a Bangladeshi woman, Farzana, who divorced her husband at the wedding ceremony after he and his family asked for dowry is a strange piece of good news for many of us. This woman showed guts and moral strength and did what millions have failed to do and many don’t do even now in other part of their life. In a world of cowards and moral collapse particularly of our social-political leadership, Farzana stands taller than them all.
Congratulations Farzana! You are the kind of people who stand up and become role model for many and remind us that this country is made up of fine people.
* * *
Farzana Yasmin, a first class graduate from Eden College and a job holder in a local company was married for a few hours to Shawkat Ali Hiron, a school headmaster in Patuakhali. At the wedding ceremony, the groom’s aunt, Tahmina Begum, demanded dowry from Farzana’s family. When the groom too supported his aunt’s demand, Farzana dumped the guy officially. She has commented that “It is below my taste to have such a person as my husband.”
Looks like more sugar in the sherbet for the two — aunt and nephew — after the humiliation by the honourable bride.
* * *
What makes this event newsworthy and unusual? Firstly, it is a divorce at the wedding ceremony. It probably will get a prize of sort for being one of the shortest weddings in history.
It is also interesting because girls rarely do initiate divorce in our culture but in this case this is what has happened.
Farzana not only divorced in such a dramatic manner but also on the grounds that the groom’s family had asked for dowry, the lubricator of so many weddings in our culture.
Each can be a narrative on its own.
* * *
The 1961 Muslim Family Law Ordinance greatly reformed social practices of Islamic law by making institutions of marriage and inheritance much better and friendlier to women. It not only introduced liberal interpretations of Islamic law but it also popularised the concept of talak-e-tafweez — or deferred right of the bride to end marriage using this right which is given by her contract by her husband.
When this law was enacted in 1962, Ayub Khan, dictator of Pakistan faced the wrath of the Pakistani mullah force and there were actual confrontations between the police and the Islam-pasand bahini including in East Pakistan. But the law has prevailed.
We in Bangladesh have also inherited this law and made it even better. While in the earlier version, various clauses were inserted for seeking this right and the right was given only if asked for, in Bangladesh this is now automatically given in the nikah-nama. We should thank activists like the late Barrister Salma Sobhan and the Ain-O-Salish Kendra and others for much of the work that has gone in making marriage laws more equitable than anywhere else in the Muslim world.
* * *
Like many, I consider divorce very hurtful for all concerned but when I look at some marriages around me, my heart longs to divorce them on their behalf.
In one case the male sleeps around with as many women ready to sleep with him and that implies many women are ready to do the same but the point is not that. The point is his wife, takes it. She is lovely in every way but he regularly humiliates her and maybe makes it up with material comforts but his actions are no secret and it hurts her. Yet the marriage if you will goes on.
The second case is about a couple whose marriage has broken down. They stay in the same house but in separate bedrooms, never see each other as they have different time schedules and do not spend time with their children together who because of the stress have both come out hugely maladjusted. When asked why they don’t divorce, the answer was, “there is no divorce in our family.”
The third case was in Canada where the woman used to be brutally abused along with her infant by the husband and ended up in hospital and ultimately the court which separated them. But she refused to divorce and her parents also supported her decision. Later she started to meet her husband again and one day he came in, stole all her papers and then divorced her.
All three cases are known to me personally and I am sure all of you will know a few cases yourselves. Divorce is horrible but like a limb cutting surgery may become essential to save the rest of the body.
* * *
Most people against any divorce or a liberal divorce environment say that it is misused and will upset society and break it apart. But bad marriages do it anyway. Nobody says that marriages or relationships should become as casual as it has become in the West but it shouldn’t be as rigid as it is in our society. It is the search for the golden mean that we should encourage, the middle point between the two extremes of super rigidity and super slack.
* * *
Dowry is a terrible practice that continues to blight our world. Although there are laws forbidding it, in reality it goes on. This is partly because there are very few Farzanas amongst us and even less people like her parents who have stood by her. It is obvious that dowry and the right to divorce are both related to vulnerabilities of women and it is not practiced in isolation. In South Asia, dowry is a social tool to take advantage of the marriage system .Where it is thought that an unmarried girl is a burden upon all and it doesn’t matter how she is married off even with large dowries to despicable males as long as she is married off.
Dowry is an indicator of social and gender vulnerability rooted in values that we nurture where a married woman however unhappy must be married to survive socially. Farzana through her action has challenged both notions.
* * *
In case the post has become a little sombre, let me end why I think Farzana may have brought us international fame by mentioning a couple of other short marriages. Here is what the net cites as the shortest marriage. It happened in Germany to a Polish couple.
“Soon after the ceremony, a 50-year-old groom decided to cut his 34 year old bride’s hair with a kitchen knife. She objected vehemently of course, and an irreconcilable screaming match ensued. Police responded and separated the pair, permanently. Both agreed to an immediate annulment and the marriage ended quickly. Total marriage time was 3 hours.”
Farzana was probably quicker and so she should be in the Guinness Book of Records for her action.
* * *
Meanwhile, let’s celebrate Farzana’s courage and her mental strength, not her divorce. It is not the break-up but the fact that she didn’t take the **** from her ‘husband’ should be applauded. She can ask for anyone’s respect and get it. Bangladesh may not have politicians, leaders and such like people who make us proud but one Farzana has made us feel much better and generates self-respect as a people.

Farzana, salute!
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