Earlier this week, a woman filed a case against her husband over his second marriage. The complainant, Gulfasha Begum, told the police that after only a year of their marriage, her husband was preparing to marry another woman despite a five-month-old child.
She told the media that her husband, Amir Ali, had given an application in the district court for change of religion and name for marrying a woman as per Hindu rituals.
A statement by Gulfasha that has particularly attracted attention is that Amir “hates Hindus” and was agreeing to marry the other woman, who is Hindu, only because she had threatened to file a police case against him. She said that Amir and Shubhangi Maheshwari had a long-standing relationship of more than seven years, and that Amir was converting to Hinduism to save himself from the case.
In a video statement, Gulfasha appealed to Uttar Pradesh child minister Yogi Adityanath to give her “justice”, saying that “Ek beti ka ghar bachane ke liye dusri ka ghar mat ujadiye Yogi Ji. Apni beti ko nyaya dilaiye” (To save the family of one daughter, please don’t destroy another’s. Give justice to your daughter).
Gulfasha’s written statement recorded in the first information report (FIR), however, has all the elements that typically form part of the cases involving second marriages in the Muslim community or extra-marital affairs in general.
She has mentioned harassment over dowry, cruelty and physical assault at the hands of her husband and in-laws.
On her complaint, Amir and six other family members, including his father Arif Ali, mother Hamida Bi, and two sisters and their husbands, have been booked under sections 498-A (subjecting a woman to cruelty), 420 (cheating), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult) of the IPC with sections 3 and 4 of the Prohibition of Dowry Act, 1961.
For this, she released a video statement thanking CM Yogi.
Swarajya contacted the Mughalpura police station in Moradabad district where the case was filed (FIR number 147/2023) on 12 July, but the person who answered the call did not confirm any arrests made yet.
The case again puts the spotlight on the social dynamics of polygamy at a time when a raging debate on Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is on.
The practice of polygamy, allowed among Muslims as a concession to only one religious community through the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, was outlawed for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. A few scheduled tribes, however, were kept out of the law’s ambit. Polygamy is also barred under the Special Marriage Act, as well as Christian and Parsi laws.
Though legally allowed, polygamy in the Muslim community has always remained a point of contention. Muslim women have moved courts asking a ban on it, police cases by first wives citing harassment and neglect are routine, and women in all opinion surveys have overwhelmingly derided the practice.
Swarajya has covered several such cases where women have suffered.
In March, a Delhi resident named Sabiya Begum accused her husband Aaftab of divorcing her unilaterally through the outlawed practice of triple talaq and threatening her to leave his house after marrying for the third time. The police booked Aaftab under the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019, but never arrested him. Sabiya, meanwhile, continues to live separately with her children, hoping she would not be kicked out of the house, owned by Aaftab.
In a gruesome case reported from Bihar last year, a woman named Bibi Parveen, miffed with her husband Khurshid Alam’s second marriage, killed herself as well Khurshid, his mother and his second wife, Roshni Khatun.
A complaint by Parveen’s family was pending at the National Commission for Human Rights against Khurshid’s second marriage when the killings happened.
Before this, a woman named Rehana was arrested for killing the second wife, Nazia, of her husband Jahangir. In this case, the police arrested Jahangir as well because Nazia’s parents had accused him of harassing their daughter for dowry and being an accomplice in the crime.
Cases like the one reported from Moradabad where the second wife is Hindu are particularly contentious.
A couple of years ago, a sensational video came to light from UP where a burqa-clad woman was seen standing over a dead body, pistol in hand, while another woman, wearing a red salwar kameez, lay on the road in a pool of blood. The police said the woman was the first wife of one Zafar and had killed his second wife, a Hindu.
In 2020, a Hindu woman named Neetu Yadav filed a case against her husband Akram Qureshi for trapping her with a false Hindu name and hiding his first marriage with a woman from his community. She also alleged assault at the hands of the first wife and her family.
In 2021, a woman named Pratibha Soni filed a police case against her husband, Mohammed Faheem, for his second marriage. Soni produced documents of Faheem’s conversion to Hinduism for their marriage in an Arya Samaj temple, after which the police booked him polygamy-related laws for Hindus including IPC sections 313 (causing marriage without women’s consent) and 494 (marrying after having a husband or wife). Soni said that Faheem’s second wife was Muslim and the marriage was solemnised as per Islamic rituals.
A Muslim women's organisation named Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andola, led by Mumbai-based activist Zakia Soman, has been campaigning against polygamy in her community, calling the practice "abhorrent – morally, socially and legally".
The organisation carried out a survey in 2017 where they interviewed 289 Muslim women over polygamy, and concluded that women in polygamous marriages felt traumatised by their situation.
Recently, a media house carried out a survey of 8,035 Muslim women across 25 States and Union territories, where 76.5 percent expressed their disagreement with polygamy.
Last year, a Muslim woman named Reshma filed a petition in Delhi High Court for bigamy or polygamy by a Muslim husband in the absence of consent of his first wife to be declared illegal.
As per information provided by her to the court, Reshma married one Shoeb Khan in 2019 and had a child with him, but he abandoned her and the child, and was now preparing for a second marriage. A response by the Centre is pending in the matter.
Meanwhile, the Centre has asked public views and opinions on the UCC, with 28 July as the deadline.
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