We all know someone or the other who has gone through a certain bad experience with their marriage. I do too. A friend, who went through a bad marriage and desperately wanted out. It was only then that she felt the need to wipe off the dust from file of documents safeguarding the elusive nikkah nama.
Like most desi brides, she had also signed the marriage contract with much excitement, but without giving it a read. She soon discovered that she had unknowingly agreed to let go of her right of divorce and had also not put any conditions on her husband’s right to divorce her, such as provision of housing, financial assistance, rights on children etc. The regret that overwhelmed her needs no elaboration. The one thing she kept repeating was,“If only I had known.”
The first time that I actually read through the Nikkah Nama was when I got married two years ago. I must say I was genuinely surprised at the option to demand so many rights, legally, felt so cool! My in-laws had already discussed and agreed upon the details of haq mehr with my parents and my dad explained it to me and took my consent so I could put it all in black and white in clauses 13-16 of the form. Clause 17 came as a pleasant surprise, I could actually put forth any ‘miscellaneous’ conditions like “The husband must give at least xyz amount of money to the wife as monthly personal allowance”. But the realization that those sections are generally conveniently crossed off or left blank (mostly without even consulting the bride and/or the groom) also made my heart sink.
When everything is hunky dory and you’re flying high for having found the partner of your dreams, it is easy to avoid thinking about “what could go wrong”. You let go of your right to divorce (clause # 18) because it just seems wrong to ask for such an unspeakable thing in such blessed and joyous times. Why spoil the mood and risk your ‘good girl’ impression? But stop and think for a moment, would anyone care about that mood you saved and the impression you made if a time comes when you’re desperately in need to exercise that right you let go off? This right allows the wife to seek a legal divorce without having to let go of her haq mehr and is actually NOT the same as the right of khula, which requires her to give up the mehr and puts her under a financial disadvantage.
Sadly, it is mostly the bride’s own parents who discourage their daughters from uttering the forbidden word ‘Divorce’, let alone put forth any other ‘unconventional’ demands in black and white. You see, it ruins the ‘good girl’ impression of the bride and makes the in-laws question her much sought after meek nature. Since it is bad manners to rationally consider a situation that is remotely related to a marital dispute, clauses 19 to 21 are deemed useless anyways which require specifications of the following:
- Any conditions put by the wife on the husband’s right of divorce?
- Minimum financial requirements to be fulfilled by the husband
- Any restrictions on the man’s right to contract further marriages while he’s still married to his first wife or the proof of permission granted by the first wife in case he’s already married.
But excuse me? You must be kidding, right? What kind of a shareef, obedient girl would dare ask for these clauses to be properly filled out?
Even in the most ‘liberal’ and ‘well-educated’ families, all of the above is easier said than done. Our religion gives us unimaginably equal rights, but the cultural mind-sets are hard to change. Shaadi is an extremely sensitive business in our society and things like the bride demanding an addition/change in the nikkah nama can potentially become deal breakers in many cases. Unfortunate, to the say the least, but a reality nonetheless.
The harsh reality to ponder over is, if a relationship can fall apart on just claiming your rights, is that relationship worth getting into? If a family cannot accept you being vocal about your own marriage contract, how do you expect your voice to be respected and heard in that family post marriage?
It is ironic that the ‘elders’ of most families see more value in spending hours discussing the number of guests, the variety of dishes on the menu and the colour of flowers used in the decor, than in maturely deliberating over fine details of the nikkah nama.
Those poorly printed two pieces of paper are mostly left at the disposal of the maulvi sahab who knows nothing about the two people whose life decisions he takes in two minutes by striking off clauses. The sad little document only reaches the bride and the groom for getting signed off in a room full of people who are anxiously waiting to let lose their tears of joy. There is no time to thoroughly examine the sealed deal then. You just sign it off and brace yourself for the mubarikbaad hugs.
The sensible thing is to is to discuss those clauses with your spouse-to-be and reach mutual consent before you have to sign them in that room full of ogling eyes. Everything on those two pages should ideally be reviewed and agreed upon well before the actual signing ceremony, that is not the time for last minute surprises for either sides.
About time we start giving more thought to these questions than to the immaculate synchronization of each dance step for the umpteenth dholki at your mother’s khala’s house.