25th August 2019 was the day on which the High Court of Bangladesh passed this law of replacing the word “kumari” (virgin) to obibahito (unmarried) on the marriage certificate.
This battle has been won after the tiring efforts of five years and has been greeted a landmark victory for the campaigners of equal rights.
In Bangladesh, the sanctification of a Muslim couple in the ceremony of Nikkah (Muslim marriage) is performed by government-assigned Marriage Registrars keeping as per the Muslim Marriages and Divorce (Registration) Act, 1964. The rituals have been carried out similarly over the years but some amendments are made in the act.
Three civil rights organizations Bangladesh Legal Aids and Services Trust (BLAST), Bangladesh Mohila Parishad and Naripokko filed a petition that challenged clause no.5 of the prescribed marriage registration form, also known as Kabin-nama .
Gender equality in Bangladesh… The High court ruled Sunday that Virgin — or Kumari in Bengali – will be replaced with " unmarried "— TK Rangarajan (@tkrcpim) August 28, 2019
Other 2 options on form, " divorced and widow will remain…..welcome judgement
Kabin-nama is a written document that is signed by two Muslim partners, that under the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1061, is legal evidence of their civil union and lays out the rights and obligations of the bride and groom.
The clause number.5 of the form requires a bride to mention if she is a kumari, widowed or divorced while the groom is not required to answer any such question.
In the writ submitted to the High Court, the campaigners stated that the clause “results in the violation of Articles 27, 28, 31 and 32 of the Constitution because it perpetuates discrimination between women and men”.
They further proposed that the word Kumari should be replaced by obibahito. In the old Bangla language, the word Kumari meant unmarried but it keeps connoting with the alternative meaning of being a virgin.
The word obibahito is a very common term that just means unmarried.
On 14th September 2014, the High Court bench of Justice Md. Jahangir Hossain and Justice Naima Haider made an official inquiry to the government to ask why the use of word Kumari should not be deemed discriminatory against the women; the amendments mentioned in the petition should be implemented.
The verdict was given by High Court on the 25th of August 2019, after holding the verdict.
The verdict is appreciated as a huge victory for the organizations that campaigned for the deliverance of the lawsuit.
The new law states that not just the bride but the groom will also have to mention if he is unmarried, divorced or widowed.
Rahat Mustafiz writes at the Women Chapter blog about the common desire of Bangladeshi men to marry virgins. She said:
“Nowadays the educated Bengali men do not try to test the bride whether she is a virgin or not but still they want their wife to be a young virgin. And because of this male chauvinistic sense and consciousness, our patriarchal lawmakers made the word “kumari” essential in the Kabin-nama”.
She further gave the examples from the lives of Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W):
“Even in those days when people were not educated enough Prophet Muhammad PBUP went for widows and taking care of them and he did not go after “virgins”. This is how broadminded Prophet Muhammad(SAW) was”.
How many Muslim men would marry a widow or divorcee these days? If one follows real sunnah aren’t we supposed to follow Prophet Muhammad (SAW)?
Muhammad Ali Akbar Sarker, a Muslim marriage registrar from Dhaka said:
“I have conducted many marriages in Dhaka and I have been often asked why men are not supposed to mention their status and women should? I always told them it’s not in my hands. I guess I won’t be asked this question anymore”.
The changes will start to come in mid-October.