Between religion and marriage

Bengaluru woman learns the man she married is not who she thought

By Sana Husain| 29 January, 2016


“For the first time, he had introduced himself as ‘Rehan’ to me,” she said.

Now, within the four walls of her husband’s house, she sits clad in a green dress, eyes downcast, tears rolling down her face. Wiping them off with her bright pink dupatta, she said, “I had believed the guy more than my parents.”

Najma Bana, 25, is the daughter of an auto-rickshaw driver. She was 16, when she entered into a relationship of seven years with Anand Rao, a lawyer. After their marriage, she discovered his real identity as a husband of two other wives and father to their children. Also, she learned that he is Hindu. Despite the lies, they welcomed a baby boy after a year.

She had the child circumcised, giving rise to more conflict —she wanted to raise their son a Muslim, but her husband insisted on Hinduism.

Within limited means, she continues to live under the same roof as him and his other wives, an unusual situation that nevertheless highlights the vulnerability of women in India, especially those taken advantage of by powerful men.

Not just any other man, but an affluent lawyer, who keeps three wives under his control.

“When I was pregnant, petty issues were blown out of proportion by him. He verbally abused me. I was at my parents’ place for five months. I waited for him, by sitting at the doorstep, endlessly from day to night,” Najma recalled.

Composedly remembering the past, she treads from the drawing room into the kitchen on the ground floor of the three-story house that is also home to his other families. The scattered utensils and empty fridge are a part of it. “Have been living here without food for a week…” She walks to her wardrobe and opens it gently. “He gave nothing worth Rs. 4 lakh ruppees here.”

Her relatives were against this marriage, yet she married him “in the name of love,” she said.

Pacing the small apartment, she picked toys up from the floor and handed them to her son, now 20 months old. “He never treated me like his wife. My child, Mohammad’s health is deteriorating, without proper medicines and clothes. He has lied about providing jewelry and clothes to me.”

After three months of marriage, she approached Karnataka Rakshana Vedike and also consulted with Women’s Welfare Charitable Trust, which helped her through all of the struggle. To address the issue over conversion of child’s religion, she lodged a complaint with the police and finally attended counseling sessions at Parihar Family Counselling Centre.

“I don’t plan to remarry, as I’ve only loved him. My heart doesn’t allow me to leave him,” she said.

She said she hopes to earn and provide for her son as best as she can.

“His love drew me to him and not his money. I’m only living for my child,” she added. She has refused to involve her parents in this matter.

Anand Rao, Najma’s husband, responded, “I respect her and will love her till death. I have given her basic amenities – food, water, shelter and clothes. She orders me around, doesn’t cooperate and live like a couple. I can’t live with her in this city, in a rented house. Obviously, I have filed for divorce and want child’s custody in my name.”

At his office, he sat with his hands tightly folded across his broad chest. With fierce eyes, he explained, “In a relation with her for seven years, I married her on July 27, 2013. Before the nikaah ceremony, on July 24, 2013, I had the first meeting with her parents. They rushed into marriage, asking me to ’marry that day’.”

He added that he refused conversion to Islam. Hence, the marriage ceremony didn’t happen in the registrar’s office.

“She didn’t take permission before getting our son circumcised. I still called her to house and respected her,” he said.

Reacting in a way, similar to his wife, he said that his parents and first two wives don’t get involved in all of this.

“I want to get done with it and can’t marry more women, as it’s a headache. Why should I talk to her if she doesn’t respect me?” he added.

At their house in Govindpura, Anand walks into the room downstairs, where Najma is holding her son. She throws a chips packet away in seeming frustration, looks away and doesn’t respond to her child’s wails. Not looking into her eyes, he takes Mohammad in his lap and feeds him.

A few minutes later, he climbs upstairs and calls to his two other wives, who are working in the kitchen. His children crowd around him, as he smiles and seats himself on the sofa.

Iqbal Ahmed, senior counsellor at Parihar Family Counseling Centre, said, “Her husband had cheated on her and applied vermillion on his forehead after marriage. The girl was crying and wanted to save the relation.”

He added that after one session, around six to seven lawyers came and said that they will settle the case in court.

“No religion teaches to play with a girl’s emotions. We are spreading awareness amongst Muslim parents and encouraging pre-marital counseling for the better future of their children,” he said.

Kamal (name changed), Anand Rao’s colleague and attorney, said, “My friend will always say that he’s right. Being a gentleman, he shouldn’t have married her, since he already has two wives.”

About Najma, he added, “He married an auto-driver’s daughter, who isn’t of his caliber, such as his female lawyer colleague would be. From a BPL family, she used to earn Rs. 3000 ruppees per month at a call center.”

“Rao is trying to dodge the prosecution. As per Special Marriage Act, a man’s first wife is considered legal. He didn’t register their marriage under that. Now, where does the wife stand and was she fooled into it? He can’t give her a legal status.

“Here, humanity is denied as he calls three women on one bed. On the basis of moral grounds, it’s flawed. She is educated, but was wooed and lured by him.”

Mohini, a program officer with the Karnataka State Child Protection Society said, “The husband can’t claim the child without registering the marriage. The child would have the best with his mother.”

On January 12, 2016, Najma, in her steady and sweet tone, said, “He has filed for divorce. Still, he has asked me to stay in house for few days. I can’t go anywhere else, with my child. I’ll fight for my child and my rights.”

The story was originally published in The Beat magazine.

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