Bring Back the New Nikah Nama – But Not All of It!

21 Jul

A Pakistani Bride Waiting to Sign on the Dotted Line

Recently Punjab decided to reform the laws governing marriage and made critical changes to the nikahnama, the marriage contract between two Muslim adults. Good idea! There are many things wrong with the institution of marriage in Pakistan and marriages are often used as a tool of coercion and extortion.  Heard of dowry deaths or the pressure faced by parents of the girl to provide certain “essentials” which can range from a gold watch (usually mandatory) to a house or a car or a cow?

I hoped that the Punjab government would have fixed this problem given their earlier efforts at curbing the expenses incurred at weddings by mandating people serve only one dish at the ceremony. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Instead, they thought it best to enshrine it in the law and decided to put a column for dowry in the new version of the marriage contract, the nikahnama.

They also thought it would be appropriate to make it mandatory for the parents of the bride and groom to sign the nikahnama; defying all laws of religion and logic which allow two consenting adults to be married in the presence of witnesses. And those witnesses don’t have to be mommy and daddy. Personally, I wouldn’t have had an issue with this clause because at the ripe old age of 26, my parents would gladly sign any form to get me married to anyone. But then, there are thousands of men and women in Pakistan, who are forced into marriages against their will and this absurd requirement, would only have strengthened the hands of those who coerce their children into marriages for their own convenience. This ludicrous requirement infringed on one of the essential freedoms granted to women by Islam and the state – the right to choose a life partner.

But amidst all these clauses that would make any rational person cringe, was one actually good requirement – it would be required of all married couples to get a medical checkup, including blood tests, prior to the marriage. This was an excellent idea. Unfortunately, it got thrown out with the unfortunate ones.

I am profoundly thankful to the government of Punjab for seeing sense and withdrawing the amendments to the nikahnama. However, I would urge them to reconsider reinserting the requirements for medical checkups before marriage. This would prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and alert parents to any potential health threats their future children could face based on their genetic makeup. Basically, this would have allowed both adults and families to make informed and healthy decisions.

Potentially fatal diseases such as sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and hemophilia can be inherited from parents even if the parents do not have or exhibit visible signs of the disease.  If two people getting married, both carry gene mutations for serious genetic diseases and defects and so the likelihood of their child being born with them becomes much higher. Such couples should be made aware of this risk prior to marriage. Raising a sick child is a heart wrenching and emotionally and physically taxing exercise. Couples should be made aware of the risks and challenges allowing them to make the best decisions for themselves and their children. In Pakistan, generations of cousin marriages have already compromised the gene pool and led to genetic diseases and defects being passed down with increasing frequency.

But in a country where more than half the population cannot even read and does not have access to basic healthcare, asking for comprehensive medical exams and blood tests is not only unfair but impractical. So first, I would humbly suggest, that the government of Punjab work to improve access to healthcare; then they should make such medical checkups mandatory.

And while they are in the process of making that change to the nikahnama, maybe they could think about putting a ban on dowry instead of sanctioning it. And maybe they could even tackle the issue of dowry before the medical one; because addressing it does not require investing in expensive medical infrastructure and training healthcare providers. Tackling the toxic issue of dowry will be cheaper for the government and it will make millions of Pakistani girls of marriageable age and their parents very happy and grateful.

Sehar Tariq is a Masters student at Princeton University who thinks if someone gives you their daughter, you shouldn’t expect anything more from them. She blogs at www.sehartariq.wordpress.com

Published: on the Dawn Blog, Wednesday July 21, 2010

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9 Responses to “Bring Back the New Nikah Nama – But Not All of It!”

  1. Haroon July 21, 2010 at 4:17 am #

    are you serious about the health checkup prior to marriage or being sarcastic? so government should start regulating whether people with terminal illnesses or genetic defects should be allowed to marry or not? surely thats not the best way to limit the spread of stds. why stop at the nikanamah? why not have everyone in the country take a blood test. all the ones deemed unworthy of procreating can be asked to wear a scarlet letter so everyone can see it, know it, and run from it. it will be like the good old days when jews had to wear the star of david. that way we can just shoot them all on sight and breed ourselves into a genetically superior race.

    • sehartariq July 21, 2010 at 4:34 am #

      I’m serious. Having a blood test doesnt make you ineligible for marriage. Its not a scarlet letter. People should be able to make informed decisions.

      Dont you think that people have a right to know if a partner suffers from an STD? In a country where women cannot demand anything of their partners how do you think they are going to get them to admit they have an STD?

      Would you want to get a nasty STD surprise after you get married or would you rather know before hand about it so you can deal with it or have it treated?

      Also – I’m not saying they should implement this any time soon – I agree lots needs to be done before that in terms of basic education and healthcare.

      You really think the brother’s sharif were trying to create some super Punjabi race? and that was the motivation behind medical check ups? You give them too much credit!

  2. Ayesha July 21, 2010 at 7:39 am #

    I agree with you Sehar on the blood test point.
    It wont be only the females but the males as well who’ll suffer(and are suffering) because of serious health problems with their partner and because of the “mommy and daddy” clause.
    You are doing a good job with the blog. I’m a constant follower, although I don’t agree with your views but I like the way you address them!
    Good Luck!

  3. abushidqie August 14, 2010 at 2:46 am #

    What a nice post.

    Salam

  4. preeti August 17, 2010 at 2:51 am #

    Another classical example of the gross misuse of Dowry Act (498A) back in India is the case of television celebrity, Suhaib Ilyasi. India’s Most Wanted television host was in controversy after the dispute over his daughter Aaliya’s custody rose soon after Ilyasi’s wife Anju committed suicide on January 10, 2000 in Delhi. While his mother–in-law, Rukma Singh wanted custody of the child on the ground that she had the right under Muslim law, Suhaib Ilyasi had taken the plea that his marriage with Anju was not solemnized as per the Muslim law but had been a civil affair. His sister-in-law Rashmi Singh came from Canada after six months of her sister’s death and filed a complaint with the police against Ilyasi, alleging that he used to torture his wife Anju for dowry.

    The case took bizarre turn when Anju’s brother Prashant Singh and father Prof K P Singh took a diametrically opposite stand and described the allegations against Ilyasi as “rubbish.” Prashant told Express Newsline:`whatever my mother and sister Rashmi are stating against Suhaib Ilyasi is a lot of rubbish. There is no truth in their statement or in the charges filed by the police against Suhaib Ilyasi. If you are holding Suhaib responsible for Anju’s suicide, then my mother and sister are also to blame, as they unduly interfered in their family matters.

    K P Singh, a retired IIT professor, agreed with Prashant. “My wife and daughter are breaking up my family”. Both Anju’s father and brother allege that Rukma and Rashmi have given statements against Suhaib Ilyasi as `they wanted custody of baby Aaliya. When Suhaib Ilyasi delayed that, they put him in trouble.’

    Anju’s mother Rukma Singh had changed her earlier statement given in January, 2000, in which she had stated that she did not suspect any foul play by Suhaib Ilyasi. However when Ilyasi refused to give custody of his daughter, she change her statement and alleged dowry harassment against Ilyasi.

    It has been alleged for long that Dowry Act (498a) in India is being consistently misused by clever women for extortion and blackmailing. The NCRB records suggest that during 2005-2006, 94% of the 498A, 304B cases filed by women or by her relatives were primarily to settle scores.

    Section 498A in itself is, however, not meant to deal specifically with dowry — it is commonly considered to be a ‘dowry law’ because domestic violence against a wife related to dowry demands is considered to be within the scope of ‘cruelty’ envisaged by the Section.

  5. Zachary Latif August 19, 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    great article dude.

  6. sulemanwrites September 8, 2010 at 3:21 am #

    I couldn’t agree more. Excellent suggestions

  7. ozma September 23, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    u knw what? this blood test tingy happens in so many countries . pple go 4 that before they go 4 marriage to make sure dat if thy can have healthy children !
    but Unfortunately thingz always reach to pk too late.

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