n most cases, a marriage is arranged by relatives and pals, the persons concerned usually having no choice in the matter. In some communities, betrothal takes place at the age of five or six, and is regarded as binding (marriage follows later). A man may remarry after being widowed, but customs forbids the woman to do so though the laws allow it. Because betrothal takes place so early and whilst a man remarries there is often a great disparity in age between him and his bride, there are many child widows in the tarai region of Nepal. Although occasionally treated with pity and sympathy, they are regarded as persons of ill-women, and are often abused until life is made almost intolerable.
It was the traditional belief that a woman’s duty to her husband is to bear him sons (not daughters), who may be profitable in life and who can offer panda (small balls of rice placed on the anastral shrine) to him after his death. The law of Manu said, ‘Women were created to be mother’ and the mother is still looked up to buy all right-thinking sons. But the position of a wife may be pitiable if her children are only girls, or if she has none at all. The fact that a doorway must usually be provided when a daughter is married is one very practical reason why parents prefer boys to girls.
Marriage is expected to every Muslim. The Prophet is reputed to have said, ‘Many women who will love their husband and be very prolific, for I wish you to be more numerous than any other people’. A Muslim may have as many as, but not more than, four legal wives at any one time. Apart from these, Muslim women, he may marry Jewesses or Christians and these may continue to practice their own religion, but a Muslim girl may be given in marriage only to another Muslim, and her for her there must be no intermarriage of any sort.
When a man has more than one wife, he is supposed to divide his time equally between them and to treat them equality, if he fears that he will not be. A Muslim may divorce his wife at any time and for many reasons. Divorce caused great suffering to Muslim women today, whereas polygamy is rarely practiced nowadays. It used to happen that a man would try a girl and then after she had borne him several children and become prematurely aged, he would divorce her in favour of another girl. The divorced wife could only return to her father and brothers, to be greeted without enthusiasm and married off, if the opportunity occurred to a second husband, however, undesirable. Such cases are uncommon today. But it is not surprising that Muslim women have no sense of marital security, and normally feel more affinity for their blood relatives than their husbands.
This article was published in Republica in 2012.
Amar Sherma (Limbu)