Marriage in the days of ISIS and SCOTUS

Published : 5 July 2015, 10:08 AM
Updated : 5 July 2015, 10:08 AM

"The arc of moral universe is long but it bends towards justice" is an immortal quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. That Arc finally bent towards justice when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) made Gay Marriage the Law of the land.  The Christian Right (I am also sure religious fundamentalists of all shades) has been on a warpath to deny the LGBT community the basic human rights that are accorded to rest of us who live in the US. The protests are shrill and defiant but it is unlikely that these protests will have any impact on the eventual full implementation of Gay marriage in the US.While I celebrate this long awaited win for the humanity, I ache at the even slower progress of women's rights in the land of my Father. Marriage is still about pride, prestige and economic convenience than about love and desire. I also ache for the degradation women and the concept of marriage at the hands of the ISIS thugs. In the name of Islam they are enslaving women under the ruse of temporary marriages. There seems to be very little anyone can do about such debauchery. The Ulema class is painfully silent and thereby complicit in these acts of ultimate violation of women.

I have a young female friend who was educated in England and now works for a prestigious organisation in Dhaka. As so happens, education and social status has become an Albatross around her neck. The Albatross has her in a stranglehold because she is unable to give up her self-esteem and freedom that comes with liberalised education and just marry someone, anyone. She loves some hapless guy of different faith and different country. She sent me an email lamenting the condition she is being subjected by her parents and her extended family. I dare not quote her lest more woe befall her. But, in general this highly educated a successful woman just wants to run away from the constant badgering about getting married to someone, anyone for that matter. The idea here is to save face for the parents. They seem to have convinced themselves that they cannot show their face in polite society because their marriage age daughter is still unmarried. So, the solution is damn the love, damn the desires, just save face.  It just pains me that in 2015, Bengali women of substance have to ensure such medieval concept of pride, societal standing, and just plain critical scrutiny. This simply puts to test the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy against some mystical concept of family pride and the scorn of the society.

Justice Kennedy in his ruling that made Gay Marriage the law of the land said,"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were". This soaring opinion of one the most important jurists of our time has to contend with the tawdry "LokekiBolbe" and ChachaChachikiBolbe" sort of fear and angst. When does that end? How does this tawdry and backward-looking worldview change?

There is some glimmer of hope for non-Feminist Feminists in Bangladesh. I am unresolved if political feminism can move us forward in a country like Bangladesh. This comes from my experience in seeing Bangladesh as a society unable to shake the deep-rooted and almost genetic imprint of ideas and attitude. In my native Sylhet, the ideas that were dominant in the last century are still dominant in 2015. Unlike the US, there exists no independent judiciary that champions the cause of human rights regardless of the majority opinion and society of bigots and absolutists.

Change, however, is coming from an unexpected place and it changing the society without the help of the "BohdroLok" class, the judiciary, political parties and for that matter, the Feminist Political activists.

Let me introduce you to Sabina Begum. The Wall Street Journal ran an article about Mobile Banking on June 23, 2015 under the byline of Syed Zain Al-Mahmood. The article starts with, "On first Friday of every month, Sabina Begum makes the short trip from her single room shack in a crowded Dhaka slum to a nearby grocery. The grocer, in addition to selling her much needed supplies doubles as her financial services provider. Ms. Begum hands the grocer the cash, and with a few clicks on a basic key-press phone he sends the money on its way. At roughly the same time, in a village 300 kilometers away, Ms. Begum's father, Boshir Uddin, partially blind and slowed by arthritis, walks to a tea shop in the village square, where he awaits for the money transfer from Dhaka. It duly arrives in the form of a text message to the tea shop owner, who pays the money Mr. Uddin's daughter sent."

The Wall Street journal was writing about mobile banking and did not bother to underscore the monumental social change that this little transaction signifies. The 70 year old Mr. Boshir Uddin simply states, "If she does not send money we don't eat".  Sabina Begum has a 9 year old daughter, but no husband that is in the scene. Her daughter lives with her parents. The freedom that my English educated friend desires and deserves from the tyranny of "Family Pride" has been torn asunder by the economic ascendency and mobility of the likes of Sabina Begum. Since I am a Garmento, I have met many Sabina Begums who are quietly and decisively changing the social order and the old concepts of family pride in vast sectors of the society. I say Bravo!

Back to where we started. The Gay Marriage movement started way back on May 18, 1970. That is when Jack Baker and Michael McConnell walked into a courthouse in Minneapolis, paid $10, and applied for a marriage license. They were promptly denied any such license and just as promptly they filed a lawsuit. They took it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1972. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case. In rejecting the case the Court said, "The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question." The idea that people of the same sex might have a constitutional right to get married, the dismissal suggested, was too absurd even to consider. On June 26, 2015 the court reversed itself and the US became the 21st country in the world to legalise Gay Marriage.

I started to write this rant as a celebration for such a huge milestone in humanity's progress. But, I got all distressed by the email that my friend sent with plaintive cries for help and desire to run away. I am not sure how to help or counsel her. In my heart of hearts I know that she has to follow her heart in the quest of making"two people becoming greater than once they were." As long as we can keep the garment industry humming and keep millions of women in jobs and economic freedom, I am convinced the working class women will achieve some freedom and have a say about their lives. I am just not sure how the "BhodroLok" class (and my friend) will get out of the net it constructed over eons and are now trapped in.

Kayes Ahmed is a businessman running multi-national operations from Colorado, USA.