Convert to Islam, bypass bigamy laws?: Sham conversions and Sham second marriages
21 Jun 2009
Most people famously proclaim that love is their religion, but there are some who use religion for love. Perhaps one such is Haryana's former deputy chief minister Chander Mohan, who became Chand Mohammed to marry his new love Anuradha Bali.
Mohan was with Seema Bishnoi, his wife of 13 years, when he met and fell in love with Bali. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 does not allow a man to take a second wife so Mohan converted to Islam. So did Bali. Both dropped their Hindu names and assumed Muslim ones.
She became Fiza Parveen. And thus began a salacious soap opera played out before the media - Mohan abandons Fiza, who attempts suicide. She accuses him of playing with her sentiments and using religion to make a mockery of her love. He returns to Bishnoi, then dramatically goes back to Fiza. Was religion used and abused to commit adultery?
It is not the first time a high-profile Hindu couple has converted to Islam to 'marry' even though the first wife is alive. More than two decades ago, film stars Dharmendra and Hema Malini married secretly. Women activists protested against the "illegal" marriage. Dharmendra, they pointed out, was already married and had teenaged children. But in order to give legitimacy to his union with Hema Malini, the couple had converted to Islam.
Advocate and activist Neelofar Akhtar says that such conversions and marriages are made worse because they both are a "sham". She points out that "there are no strict laws to register a conversion (so) people are misusing the religion to have more than one wife. In all Muslim countries, there are very stringent rules if a man wants to take a second wife". But in India "it is done this easily. There is need for a regulatory body to monitor such misuse."
Akhtar makes a good point. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled in the Sarla Mudgal case that under the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, a Hindu husband cannot marry a second time simply by embracing Islam without lawfully dissolving the first marriage. He would be guilty of bigamy, the Court ruled.
V Mohini Giri, chairperson of the social service organization Guild of Service and former head of the National Commission for Women, says, "Dharmendra's wife Prakash Kaur could have fought her case in court. But, like most Indian women who have been conditioned to ultimately accept their husbands' mistakes, she didn't complain and the controversy died down". Giri has been trying to close a loophole that allows a Hindu man to have more than one wife by simply converting.
"There is a law now that all marriages should be registered, regardless of religion. However, that is not being properly implemented. While we know of only high-profile cases like that of a married Raj Babbar tying the knot with Smita Patil, there are scores of ordinary women who have been abandoned by their husbands who have misused Islam," she says.
Akhtar says the only change is that "women are becoming more financially independent and aware of their rights".
She says forgotten first wives now "gather the courage to divorce their husbands or at least ask for maintenance if they remarry".
Change of a sort then. But not enough.