The woman who wanted to be a marriage registrar: Ayesha Siddiqua says fight to go on
As conversations rage on about a recently-released High Court verdict which banned women from being Muslim marriage registrars, it is imperative to remember that it was a woman -- a marriage registrar candidate -- who had challenged the patriarchy.
In 2012, Ayesha Siddiqua saw a circular asking for marriage registrars for Phulbari municipality in Dinajpur district.
The then 31-year-old woman applied for the position in three wards of the municipality.
She aced her interview with a five-member panel which sent her name to the law ministry for approval, said Siddiqua, speaking to The Daily Star.
"Two months later, I was informed that I cannot be hired because I am a woman," she said.
Siddiqua refused to take the decision lying down -- in June of 2014, she filed a writ petition in the High Court (HC) challenging the government's decision to not employ her based on her gender. Advocate Humayun Kabir moved the petition on her behalf.
"I filed the petition because this position was open for both men and women. The job circular did not say this was only for men…if it had explicitly mentioned that, I would not have applied," said Siddiqua.
She added that they knew she was a woman from her application, but she was still called for an interview.
Six years down, on February 26, 2020, Siddiqua was met with disappointment when the HC ruled against her and upheld the government's decision.
Recently, the full text of the verdict was released after the judges signed it, bringing the court's decision to light.
The HC bench of Justice Zubayer Rahman Chowdhury and Kazi Zinat Hoque ruled that women cannot become Nikah (marriage) registrars due to certain "physical conditions" and social as well as practical situations of the country.
"It has to be borne in mind that due to certain physical conditions a lady cannot enter the mosque during a certain time of the month. She is even excused from performing the mandatory daily prayers during this particular time. This disqualification does not allow her to conduct the religious task. We are mindful of the fact that Muslim marriage is a religious ceremony and has to be guided by the terms and dictates of Islam," the HC observed, upholding the 2014 law ministry decision.
The marriage ceremony is usually conducted either by the Nikah registrar himself or by the imam of the masjid of the locality where the marriage ceremony takes place.
"How is religion related to this? A marriage registrar will simply be registering the marriage," said Siddiqua in a reaction to the verdict.
"If people want a man to conduct a religious ceremony, they can get a separate imam. The registration then can be done separately by the marriage registrar. The imam, after all, would only be conducting the religious part of the ceremony, not registering the union," she added.
As many citizen activists react to the verdict with disappointment, Siddiqua's fight continues.
"I have filed an appeal with the Appellate Division, against the High Court's decision. I will take this case to the highest court," she said.