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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 13:44 GMT
Two brides-in-one for Indian groom
By Ram Dutt Tripathi
BBC correspondent in Lucknow

For a man flying in the face of Hindu tradition, Amar Nath Verma is mighty pleased.

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The 27-year-old from the north Indian town of Lucknow will walk away from his wedding next month with not one, but two wives.

Bigamy is strictly forbidden amongst Hindus - but Mr Verma believes his is a special case.

His prospective father-in-law only allowed him to marry 18-year-old Ragini on the condition that he also weds her elder sister, Preeti.

The girls' father, Sohan Lal, set the condition because he feared there would be no one to take care of Preeti, who is physically disabled, once he had died.

Good deed

Amar Nath's carpenter father, Ram Swaroop, was looking for a bride for his son when relatives told him about Sohan Lal's predicament.

My heart accepted this, because if one daughter is handicapped, really, where will she go?
Ram Swaroop
father of groom-to-be
"Sohan Lal said I will marry both girls with one boy only," recalls Ram Swaroop.

The groom's family mulled over the offer for six months, before finally agreeing.

"My heart accepted this, because if one daughter is handicapped, really, where will she go?" said Amar Nath's father.

For his part, Amar Nath is thrilled.

He earns 2,500 rupees (about $55) a month, working for a local courier company, and believes he's doing a good deed by marrying both the girls.

His uncle Gauri Shankar told the BBC: "We are very happy with this marriage. The whole family is united."

After consultation with priests and astrologers, the wedding date has been set for 25 November.

Is it legal?

Some people are questioning whether the proposed marriage would break the law.

India's Hindu Marriage Act treats second marriages as null and void.

But it could be difficult to establish which of the sisters is the first wife, and which the second, if both marry at the same time.

And in any case, the law of bigamy may not apply unless the first wife is aggrieved and makes a formal complaint, IB Singh, an advocate, told the BBC.

The families say they have the social approval of the community - and that matters more to them.

What do you think? Would the marriage break the law? Or should the families be congratulated for finding an imaginative way of helping someone in need? Send us your comments using the form below.

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Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published.

Here are some comments we have received so far:

I think this is an innovative way to help the disabled sister and no law should apply, be it legal, constitutional or religious, as it is a special circumstance and one should be proud of Amar Nath and his family for this great humanitarian effort to help the less fortunate ones.
Sharmi Joshi, Canada

I don't understand why one of the stipulations of the marriage agreement couldn't be to take care of the handicapped sister for the rest of her life. There are many couples who take care of handicapped relatives or loved ones without one of them being married to their charge.
Layla, USA

This honest approach hardly threatens the legal system. Look at affluent politicians and film stars who have more than one wife - and offspring with all of them. Does the media question the precedents they set? Whose act should the public condemn for fear of loosening the legal system? Some poor man in Uttar Pradesh or people the whole country recognise?
Nimi, India

The real issue should be that Preeti has to be bundled into a "two-for-one offer", just because she is physically disabled. Would those people concerned about the affect on Hinduism put their own sons forward as her husband? People's attitude to disability, not bigamy, is the sad story here.
Ken Tough, South Africa

It seems a little odd to say that "bigamy is strictly forbidden amongst Hindus". In fact, it was only with the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955 that bigamy became illegal for Hindus. Prior to this, it was not only tolerated but actually the norm among particular castes and communities. [This case] breaks the current law but is in tune with thousands of years of Hindu tradition! Also, bigamy is still very common all over India, law or no law.
Saugato Datta, India

The double marriage proposal may break both the statute law and the Hindu religious codes. Nonetheless it is a clear case of goodwill towards one's fellow man and I sincerely hope it goes ahead and that Amar Nath suffers no legal or religious consequences as a result. My best wishes to brides and groom.
Patrick W, UK

I feel troubled by the implication that no one will marry a handicapped girl - pity is never a good basis for marriage. How will this play out in future - will the handicapped wife ever feel an equal? Or will she feel she is just in the way? I think these are good-intentioned people taking the wrong decision. The legal issue to me is less important compared to the moral dilemma the three people will face for the rest of their life.
Samir, India

Let's not forget that we are on the outside looking in. I come from the protection of a close-knit family unit in a small fishing village on the Black Isle in Scotland. For my work I have travelled to, and worked, in the major cities of the world, and have seen the slums of Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Bombay, where human beings are dying, and being born, in unforgivable conditions. That they feel happy and protected together is what counts. I am sure they will be very happy in their union.
Alister Jack, the Netherlands

Polygamy is natural and has been historically part of 90% of the world's cultures. It is a practical solution to problems such as the ones this family faced. If all consenting adults, even the girls' father, agree and are in harmony on the subject, what is the problem? If a law is being broken in this instance, sometimes we have to appeal to a higher law - natural law - which clearly this marriage is in harmony with.
Ronald Schoedel III, Alaska, USA

This is reminiscent of the situation of Jacob and his two wives Leah (elder, not attractive) and Rachel (younger, attractive) in the Old Testament. My concern is that from the outset, the elder sister will be seen as a "charity" case and a lot of tension might arise (as was the case in the Bible situation). Perhaps an alternative solution might be more appropriate (eg. the younger sister undertaking to care for the elder sister).
Peter Tan, Singapore

Congratulations to all involved. There are difficulties for handicapped people and it is even more difficult for them to get a partner, so what a novel idea. Hats off to Amar Nath, his family and the whole society for accepting this marriage. Forget the religious aspect, God always look after decent, honest and God-fearing people.
Anwar Sulemanji, Sweden

I think this makes a mockery of everything Hinduism stands for. It is well established that the act of man ruins the true meaning of many religions. Her father should stand up to his responsibilities as a parent and not pawn his daughter off as cattle in the market.
Shalini, UK

As a cultural outsider, I leave the question of legality to the Hindu community. What strikes me as remarkable in this case, however, is the fact that marriage is performed as an act of charity. The underlying presupposition seems to be that the elder daughter could not lead a complete life without being married and that nobody would marry her alone. Given the sad fact that disabled persons, especially women, are not only in the so-called "Third World" severely impaired in their choice of mates, this "triple's" decision should be respected despite its collision with cultural habits.
S Juergens, Germany

In Muslim tradition, it is OK for men to marry up to four women but it is not that easy. First you have to get the permission from the first wife and there has to be a valid reason, such as if the first wife becomes ill, cannot have children etc. But to marry a sister is completely disgusting! Couldn't the bride's father draw up a contract for the groom to look after the disabled daughter as part of the marriage? The thought of two sister's sharing a man is simply unthinkable.
Leon, Bangladesh

Kudos to Mr Amar Nath Verma! He has proved once again that Indians are unrivalled when it comes to creatively solving tough problems.
Nischal, India

The male-female ratio in India is changing at such a drastic pace that in future the situation might be reversed. One bride and two bridegrooms!
Urmila Ramachandran, India




SEE ALSO:
A tale of love and visas
24 Oct 03  |  South Asia
Crowd stones home of Indian 'wife'
08 Oct 03  |  South Asia
Weddings need heavenly help
01 Aug 03  |  South Asia
Belgium hosts Bollywood wedding
28 Aug 02  |  Entertainment
Indian TV show arranges marriages
19 Jul 02  |  Entertainment
Indian state amends bigamy law
02 Apr 03  |  South Asia


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