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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
The 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 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.