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Polygamy: A serious issue is a joke for lawmakers in Pakistan
Lawmakers clash over issue in ordinary and Islamic laws
By Hasan Khan
Islamabad -- The serious issue of polygamy turned out to be a source of amusement for lawmakers in Pakistan.
Pakistani laws allow a man to contract a second marriage only after obtaining the express consent of his first wife.
Pakistani and Islamic laws exist to discourage this practice by imposing stringent restrictions on polygamy; however, the culture of contracting more than one marriage is still prevalent, particularly in rural societies.
It came as a surprise for women in Pakistan when a female legislator in the Punjab Assembly, Samina Khawar Hayat, forcefully pleaded the case for amending the existing laws that bar men from contracting second marriage without the consent of first wife.
“We need to amend laws and allow men to marry a second, third, even a fourth time without seeking permission from the first wife”, Samina, of the Pakistan Muslim League, told lawmakers in the Punjab assembly.
The issue of polygamy came up for discussion in the last week of February during a debate on a motion regarding recruitment of unmarried women in government departments.
“I stand by my words”, Samina told Central Asia Online by phone from Lahore. “I will not talk on this issue anymore”, she said before disconnecting the phone.
Polygamy also provided some entertainment for lawmakers in the national parliament.
“More than 80% of lawmakers (in the National Assembly) have contracted two or more marriages”, Nabeel Gabool, a landlord from Sind and senior leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, told the National Assembly.
Gabool’s unverified statistic prompted several lawmakers to laugh loudly, but, it embarrassed many others — the polygamist parliamentarians.
Talking in parliament hallways to journalists, Gabool said he was joking. However, he also said he strongly believes most parliamentarians have contracted either secret or publicly accepted marriages.
Gabool was speaking on polygamy during a debate started by Sherry Rehman, his party colleague and a former federal information minister.
“This august house shall seek the resignation of Punjab Assembly (provincial) member Samina Khawar Hayat for advocating polygamy in contravention of the law”, Rehman said from the floor of the assembly.
Polygamy was no joking matter for the visibly agitated conservatives, particularly the clerics sitting on the floor.
“Islam allows men to marry four (wives)”, Maulana Abdul Malik, of the Jamiat Ulmai-e-Islam party, told the house. “No law whatsoever can stop what the Quran allows us categorically to do“.
Pressure was already mounting on Samina to resign for speaking in favour of polygamy, and Rehman’s timely push in the National Assembly would have essentially sealed Samina’s fate, if Gabool had not blunted the campaign’s momentum.
Condemning what Gabool said in the National Assembly and what Samina said in the Punjab assembly, National Assembly member Bushra Gohar said the parliamentarians have turned a very serious issue into farce.
Bushra said polygamy is an issue of life and death for women and children.
“It is sickening that elected representatives in parliament are making joke of it”, Bushra said, adding that the attitude shows the feudal mentality of parliamentarians toward women’s problems.
Bushra, who was a women’s rights activist before entering politics and joining the nationalist Awami National Party, said that Samina might be fed up with her own husband when she publicly asked him to marry more than two wives.
Talking to a television reporter in front of the Punjab Assembly building in Lahore, Samina addressed her husband in full-throated voice, “Khawar Hayat sahib, you can marry two, three but four wives, I have no objection”.
Bushra said both ordinary and Islamic laws do not allow men to marry a second wife, adding that Islam is often misinterpreted.
“If I interpret Islamic law, it gives no permission for second marriage, but if a Molvi does it, then there is allowance for four wives”, Bushra said. “Permission from the first wife carries no weight in Pakistani society”.
A housewife, Najma Jehan, said no sane woman would support repealing of laws barring men from contracting a second marriage without the consent of the first wife.
“For a woman, it is better to die than to accept a suthan (second wife of a husband in local dialect)”, Najma said, adding immediately, “Once somebody else shares your husband, life becomes hell for you”.