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Bangladesh's Hindu women fight for divorce rights

The government rejects such criticism and says that it is hamstrung by hard-line Hindu activists who oppose changes to the law.

Law Minister Shafique Ahmed told AFP the new legislation would cut down on polygamy, which is increasing among the Hindu males, and ensure maintenance rights for women whose partners have left them.

“We couldn't reform Hindu personal laws further because of opposition by Hindu groups including some of their most educated people. Hardliners did not even want registration of their marriages,” Ahmed said.

Radical Hindu activists say they reject any reforms that go against their scriptures or traditions, saying divorce could threaten the basic foundation of the Hindu family.

“We don't mind optional registration because Hindu couples sometimes need the marriage certificate when they travel,” said Hiren Biswas, the president of the Samaj Sangskar Parishad group.

“But we won't accept mandatory registration, or divorce and inheritance rights to women because our scriptures and customs don't allow them,” he told AFP, alleging the new law was a conspiracy hatched by foreign-funded charities.

Muslim women in Bangladesh can divorce and seek damages for break-ups or sue their partners thanks to decades of legal activism by women and rights groups.

But Bangladeshi Hindus, who have suffered widespread persecution and religious discrimination since partition of the subcontinent in 1947, were bypassed by the new rights.

Despite the new laws, Hindu women face a long struggle as their community is split on whether women's issues are the best battlefield to fight for wider equality.

For leading reformers like Supreme Court lawyer Subrata Chowdhury, himself a Hindu, the battle must now move on.

“Persecution by Muslims, forcible conversion, eviction from land and stealing of our properties are more important now,” he told AFP.

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This June 19 picture shows a Bangladeshi couple performing wedding rituals according to Hindu traditions at the Dhakeshwari Temple in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The couple ran away from home to marry against their parents wishes. (AFP)

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