While there is much expression of happiness over the ban of the ‘triple talaq’, what many fail to realize is that the entire episode dealt with only one aspect of the Muslim divorce process- an aspect which anyway did not have complete Islamic sanction- that of an “instant” triple talaq.
A good example of an ‘instant triple talaq’ is the dramatic “Talaq, Talaq, Talaq” pronounced by Deepak Parashar’s character Waseem to his wife, Nilofer (played by Salma Agha), in the 1982 film, Nikaah. Agha looks stunned and petrified while pleading Waseem, to not spell out the second and then the third ‘Talaq’, something that would immediately terminate their relationship as husband and wife. “Khuda ke waste, nahi”, she says (No, for God’s sake). The movie not only talks about instant Talaq, but also delves into the controversial Nikah Halala, when Nilofer, now married to Haider (played by Raj Babbar) is asked by her former husband, Waseem, to divorce Haider and remarry him, as he regrets pronouncing the triple talaaq in a fit of rage. Agha’s speech at the end of the movie on the humiliation of being treated as a property is heart rending.
Thirty five years after the movie, India decided to abolish this heinous practice, but the question remains about exactly what has this ban accomplished- have we been able to attain gender justice? Was that the purpose at all?
Explained in simple words, a Muslim marriage is a contract made between two individuals where the consent of both the parties involved is necessary. Talaq or divorce can be initiated by either of the parties. However, there is a crucial difference between a divorce initiated by a man and that initiated by a woman (also called Khula). While a man can divorce his wife by giving her three talaqs over a minimum period of three months, a woman can only divorce her husband if he ‘consents’ to the divorce. Yes, you read it right! While a man can GIVE divorce, a woman has to SEEK it. The husband can consent to this request for a divorce or, in case he doesn’t, the matter is referred to the Imam, who can then DECIDE if this divorce request is justified- if he thinks it is, he may annul the marriage, if not, God bless the woman’s soul.
It is great that Muslim men will no longer be able to instantly divorce their wives in anger and then regretfully opt for something viler, Nikah Halala. It is great that we have ‘saved’ women from the wrath of angry Muslim men. But, this is still far from bringing about gender equality.
True gender equality in the Muslim Personal Law would be when Muslim men, just like Muslim women, will have to SEEK divorce. It would be when a couple, which gets into a contract with mutual consent, also dissolves that contract with mutual consent. It would be when ‘Triple Talaq’ and not just “Instant” Triple Talaq is done away with.
The premise of man being the primary bread winner who financially supports the family and should have the major say in the continuity of a marital relationship should no longer be applicable in our times, when we have made such great strides in bringing justice for women. Even keeping the financial aspect aside, a marriage is a bond between two people in which each party should have equal say. Until all divorces are routed through the Imam (court, if you please!), and each party’s request given equal consideration, gender justice in divorce would not be achieved.
The subject of whether Imams should always be males, and the place of female Imams in our society can be postponed, for now….