Triple Talaq: Light Words, Heavy Impact

Talaq. Talaq. Talaq.

There are cases where women don’t even know that they’ve been divorced“, Niaz said. “The children are without any support. So, it has become very convenient for a Muslim man to just say talaq thrice and it is just so easy for him to get the woman out of his life”, says Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). The lady describes the deplorable state of millions of Muslim women who are deprived of the basic human rights of living with dignity.

On October 7, 2016, the Law Commission of India issued a questionnaire to solicit the ideas and the opinions of the public about the ways in which family laws could be reformed. There was a huge uproar about the question number seven of the questionnaire, which explicitly asked if triple talaq could be ‘abolished, reformed or be retained’. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and many politicians including Asaduddin Owaisi vociferously opposed this act and called it as an attack on the freedom of Muslims and plurality of the nation.

Many civil societies and BMMA have called out for the codification of the Sharia law, i.e. interpretation of Muslim laws based upon the constitution and encompassing women rights. They say that codification would be a giant step in the direction of gender equality and a great relief for Muslim women. However, smartly ignoring this demand both the government and the AIMPLB have rather exploited the issue of Uniform Civil code (UCC) to tip the scales in their direction. As far as our Constitution is concerned, it has been quite vague and paradoxical in the context of UCC. Article 25 of Indian constitution states “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion subject to public order, morality and health.” On the other hand, we have Article 14 talks about the equality before the law – “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth” – and Article 44 which states that “The state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”

The problem is that if triple talaq is actually a part of Islam, then how far is it right for the courts or the government to intervene – as that would be considered as a violation of Article 25 – but at the same time Article 14 and 44 allow the state to treat all citizens equally, and also promises to promulgate the UCC.  The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act in India was passed in 1937 largely by the interpretation of officers working under the British – but the question arises that how far is it right to treat something imposed by British on us as a gospel truth?

The worst sufferers of this bizarre practice are the women and the children. The cases of Shayara Bano and Shah Bano were momentous in galvanizing support on this issue. These incidents actually opened the doors for discussions on modification, if not abolishing, triple talaq. A survey was conducted by BMMA found that almost 92% of Muslim women opposed triple talaq. Recently, a women’s movement collected more than 50,000 signatures, calling for a nationwide ban on instant divorces. That petition was being added as evidence in an appeal filed to the Supreme Court to ban instant divorces.

The important thing here is that human rights should not supersede the religious laws. If this practice is actually outlandish and outdated, then why is the AIMPLB being so dogmatic to even discuss this issue, not to forget that they even boycotted the questionnaire of the Law Commission? For the government, it is important to be prudent in handling this issue, because imposition doesn’t lead to resolutions but conflicts. And for the Muslims, it is the time for their uprising to revamp the ancient and bizarre patriarchal social structure. It is the time for them to ask why we should allow certain people sitting together at a place to be a representative of millions of Muslims. Who gives them this authority?

A different approach is required to handle this issue. This issue needs to be viewed through the lenses of human rights and should not be treated as a theological debate, because the moment we make it a theological debate, the issue gets hijacked by the ‘maulvis vs. moderates’ argument. Shouldn’t divorce be a matter where both sides  have equal say – and not that only one of the parties has to bear the brunt of separation and social stigma? If laws against crime, laws relating to land relations, laws of contract and laws governing evidence can be applied equally to every citizen irrespective of their religion – then why not marriage and divorce laws? For a land that celebrates democracy and freedom, it is absurd that people are treated differently in the eyes of law just because they follow a different religion. It is high time for the Muslims to say ‘triple talaq‘ to this unilateral practice.