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Old September 29, 2012, 12:11 AM
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New Bangladesh law could ease suffering of abandoned Hindu women

At present, Hindu women are unable to seek divorce or demand compensation from abusive husbands because of an age-old custom.
By K. R. Chowdhury for Khabar South Asia in Dhaka
September 29, 2012

Torulata Rani, 24, is having a tough time raising her six-year-old son by herself in Dokshin Chowra village in northern Nilphamari district, 350km from Dhaka. Her husband Sreepodo deserted the young family six years ago.

The reason, according to Rani, was that her mother was unable to meet a demand for increased dowry. In 2006, he husband married another woman.

Because she is a Hindu, there is not much the state can do for Rani. The minority Hindu community in Bangladesh follows the centuries-old Dayabhaga Law. According to that code, Rani does not have the right to divorce Sreepodo until he dies.

"I have to pass my whole life as his wife no matter whether he looks after me and my son or not," Rani told Khabar South Asia. "I have no right to object to my husband's decision. He can marry as many women as he wishes."

With no other recourse, Rani recently filed a case with local police under the Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Act, which covers violent abuse. Rani claims her husband continues to assault both her and her mother.

While India enacted legislation on marriage registration and divorce in 1955, Bangladesh remains ambivalent on the issue, fearing a backlash from its Hindu minority.

Things may be changing. On September 18th, amid growing demand from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society and women's rights groups, Parliament passed the Hindu Marriage Registration Bill-2012.

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