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Triple Talaq: The SC Needs To Look Beyond Muslim Women

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As a country, we have many demons of our own to fight – be it poverty, rampant corruption, poor public health, hygiene and sanitation. There are various human rights issues owing to caste and gender discrimination, communal violence, rapes, female foeticide, honour killings, a debilitating infrastructure, a burgeoning traffic crisis, an overburdened judicial system, border security and terrorism, etc.

One such problem has snow-balled into a huge controversy – the ban on the “triple talaq” system.

Irrespective of the religion, the problem of women being abandoned by their husbands, sometimes supported by the in-laws, is not an uncommon story in the Indian subcontinent. Remember Siminder Kaur’s ongoing campaign to reunite with her son, Anhad after being tricked by her own husband and the in-laws! It happens in every strata, religion and culture in the society.

Let us untangle this controversy ball called the “triple talaq” and see if the hype truly measures up to its weight.

The Case In Favour Of The Triple Talaq Ban

Women today are fighting a thick veil of social stigma against divorcees. More and more women are coming forward to not only take refuge in the laws but also, make a valiant attempt to change the prevailing norm in the society.

One such brave woman is 25-year-old Afreen Rehman, who was harassed by her husband and in-laws following demands of dowry. Another sorry tale to be told is that of 30-year-old Gulshan Parveen, an English Literature postgraduate, who was subjected to physical torture including being beaten with an iron rod by her husband. In spite of paying ₹2.5 lakh cash, bringing along furniture, electronics, crockery and clothes, she was abused for more dowry. But, she continued to stay because of her two year old son, Ridan. A similar case is that of Shayara Banu.

All these women were unceremoniously divorced, overnight by their respective husbands via the speediest system of divorce that has ever existed, the “triple talaq” system. Parveen says, “I felt homeless instantly and wonder why my consent matters only in Nikah and why it is irrelevant when it comes to talaq.”

Afreen, along with Farha Faiz, a Supreme Court lawyer is calling for a ban on the “triple talaq“.

Triple talaq is banned in more than 20 Muslim countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh. And in their support are 50,000 Muslim men and women – fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters from the Muslim community.

Some of the notable celebrities in support of the ban include Shabana Azmi, Hina Zaheer Naqvi, Resul Pookutty, Saeed Mirza, Javed Siddiqi, Hasan Kamal, Anjum Rajabali, Shafaat Khan, Talat Jaani, Feroz Abbas Khan etc.

Whether it is BJP member Shazia Ilmi or Congress member Shama Mohamed, both are vociferously in tandem when it comes to the ban on “triple talaq“.

As per the recent BMMI study, over 92% Muslim women want an end to this practice.

The Case Against The Triple Talaq Ban

On the other end of the spectrum are some of the highly learned scholars in the Islamic community. They argue that the “triple talaq” is grossly misunderstood and that the ban is politically motivated to push the Uniform Civil Code (UCC).

They point out that many people with little or no knowledge of Islam and Muslim personal laws are interested in reforming them. They reason that while the Hindu Shastrik Law and Christian Canon doesn’t recognize divorce, Islam recognizes the right of an individual (both man and woman) to divorce via four methods – Talaq, Khula, Faskh-e-Nikah, Tafweedh-e-Talaq.

Contrary to popular belief, they say that Talaq-ul-Biddat, or instantaneous divorce is not at all common amongst the majority of Muslims. Out of the four schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Law and the fifth Shia school of jurisprudence, only one, the Hanafi school allows “triple talaq”.

They also claim that Muslim women here already enjoy a two-tiered system of justice and protection, one from the Muslim Personal Board and the other from the Supreme Court. This privilege is not enjoyed by women in the other Indian communities. They finally conclude that Islam is a religion of peace that not only respects the modesty but also protects its women.

The Gross Reality

While their clarifications do hold ground, the gross reality is that in practice, the divorced Muslim woman often finds herself at the short end of the stick. Left nowhere to go and no alimony to claim in reality!

The most recent case is that of Md. Abdul Aqueel, an NRI who divorced his wife, simply by setting his Whatsapp display pic with the words Talaq, Talaq,Talaq written on it. The wife’s parents were critical of the humiliating and gross misuse of the system to dispense off with their spouses in an instant whim. Aqueel and his parents are currently under police arrest on account of attempt to murder and outraging the modesty of wife.

The Compelling Questions

With the whole country is awaiting for the Supreme Court’s final verdict with bated breath, the larger question that needs to be addressed is how exactly is the ban going to help the plight of women in the Muslim community?

What about the women who are harassed post marriage in other communities?

What if the real solution lies not in the ban per se, but an overall change in the mindset not just in the society, but within the women of the community themselves?

Poster of the movie nikaahThe protagonist of the 1982 Hindi movie, “Nikaah” which dealt with the same controversial issue of “triple talaq“, Salma Agha has a very interesting take on the matter. In her recent appearance on NDTV with Barkha Dutt, she clarified that while it was her conscious decision to do the movie as she supported her Muslim sisters, she also blamed the same women for the situation. While she clearly stated Islam as being highly respectful and protective of women, she urged the women in the community to know their rights, read and clearly understand and clarify the Quran’s take on the matter and not be ignorant or swayed by outside political forces.

In the larger picture, no particular religion, practise or cause can be pinpointed as the root problem and no amount of bans and feminist drives are going to solve and wish away the injustice faced by women. As evident in the “Nordic Paradox” phenomenon where the connection between gender equality and domestic violence is a real baffling mystery. The Nordic countries are hailed for being gender equal in all ways and yet, they report the highest incidents of Intimate Partner Violence against women.

The Answer

The final verdict should be a consensus between all the parties involved, Muslim women at the forefront, Islamic scholars from various schools of thought and the lawmakers of the country.

The final judgement should be fair and free of all gender, religious and political bias, favouring and standing up for the suffering victim alone.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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