Until 2017, 90 million Muslim women constantly faced the threat of being divorced suddenly, either orally, via a text or through a letter. Till date, approximately 66% of Muslim women have been divorced by their husbands orally. That is by just saying the words ‘Talaq’ thrice. There have also been incidents of Muslim men divorcing their wives over a Whatsapp message.
However, all this changed after the 2017 verdict by the Supreme Court which ruled out the practice of Triple Talaq as unconstitutional. But, this success did not come easy. It took years of struggle by the Muslim women who stood up for their rights and dignity. Clearly, they felt it was unjust to end their marriage without their wish or consent.
Here’s courageous stories of women who dared to challenge the male-dominated society to fight for their dignity.
At the age of 62, Shah Bano was thrown out of her matrimonial home along with her five children by her husband, Mohammed Ahmad Khan. The two had got married in 1932. But, after 14 years of their marriage, Khan married another women – the reason why Bano was abandoned by her husband. Three years later, she filed a suit demanding maintenance of ₹200/month from her husband, as mentioned in Section 125 of CrPC. Being a wife without any income and neglected by her husband, made her eligible for the same. So, to avoid this expense, Khan divorced her by simply uttering the words ‘Talaq’ thrice. Because, as per the Muslim Personal Law, as she is no more his legal wife he cannot maintain any connection with her, and thus is not responsible to maintain his wife. Further, as per the law, he was required to pay maintenance only for the iddat period i.e. three months after the divorce. But, this did not stop her from fighting as this was not a fight just against her husband, but the entire male-dominated society and by extension the discriminatory social customs.
She won the cases in the local court, High Court and even the Supreme Court. However, this was soon reversed by the Rajiv Gandhi government (for the fear of losing Muslim vote bank), which passed the Muslim Women (Protection on Divorce Act), 1986 which was in lines with the Islam laws.
Despite this failure, the Shah Bano case became a landmark one in the legal history of India. This case was significant as it was the first time the conflicting role of personal laws and the Constitution came to light. Are personal laws above gender justice? Does the Section 125 of CrPC apply to women? Although this was not the first case to recognise Muslim women’s rights, it was significant in recognising the need for equal treatment of Muslim women in matters pertaining to their marriage. This got the ball rolling and sowed the seeds for a revolution which encouraged more women to raise the voice. For instance, Bano’s fight resulted in increase in number of applications being filed for maintenance by divorced Muslim women. They began questioning their community as a protective institution.
Despite the failure, this case set the ball rolling and sowed the seeds for a revolution which encouraged more women to raise the voice against the injustice faced by them. As recalled by her daughter Siddique Ahmed who says she remembers seeing her mother’s determination at a time when no one supported her. Although her mother was not educated she did not give up despite immense pressure from their relatives from Saudi who were ready to pay for her Hajj only so that she would give up.
Since her student life, Bano was against anti-social customs such as triple talaq and Nikah halala. And these very practices became a part of her life after she got married to Rizwan Ahmed. Domestic violence, torture and demands for dowry became the new normal for her. And in 2015, she received a divorce from her husband via a speed post. That’s when she decided that she cannot take something that is ‘so wrong’. One year later, she petitioned the SC seeking a ban of instant talaq, polygamy and nikah halala and declare it unconstitutional as its in violation of Articles 14 (equality before law), 15 (non-discrimination), 21 (right to life with dignity) and 25 (right to freedom of conscience and religion) of the Indian Constitution.
It was based on this petition PM Modi filed an affidavit against the triple talaq. Her case was joined by five other women seeking a ban on this practice. And in August 2017, in a landmark verdict, the SC struck down the practice by a majority of 3:2, declaring it was unconstitutional. The Modi government drafted The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, which was passed in the Lok Sabha in December. However, Shayara hopes the other practices too will be banned. In an interview with The Hindu, she states that she will continue to fight for women’s right and will now file a petition to ban other practices as well.
In her entire fight, it was the mental harassment which was the biggest challenge for her. She was often threatened by the members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) to withdraw the case stating that she was going against Islam. Despite this discouragement, she kept the fight going. With the support of women activists, NGOs, lawyers, her family and the media, her case got significant coverage. Her courage got more and more women to speak up.
Just after a year of her marriage with Sheeran Raza in 2015, Khan was given divorce by her husband. Following which Khan filed 2 petitions in a local court in Bareilly, first for triple talaq and the second one for domestic violence. And in 2018, the court declared the triple talaq as invalid and also ordered the authorities to probe the domestic violence case against the husband and his family.
Khan now runs an NGO for women and fights for victims of the controversial instant divorce and other such practices. She is also fighting against the nikah halala. She herself has been a victim of this practice, where she was forced to sleep, consummate marriage with her father-in-law and brother-in-law to remarry her husband. She has even written to the UP CM Yogi Adityanath urging him to abolish the evil Islamic practice. In 2018, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre and the Law Commission asking them to review the petitions which were filed to abolish the other two practices- nikah halala and polygamy.
But today, she is facing a huge price for her brave acts. She has constantly been receiving threats that she should leave India, and if not done so she would be stoned. A fatwa as well has been issued by the Muslim clerics which ordered a social boycott unless she apologized. Another fatwa stated that whoever brings her chopped hair will be rewarded with Rs. 11,786.
Her case brought to light the latest and the fastest method of instant talaq – via Whatsapp, email and Skype. And it also highlighted the fact that despite making the practice unconstitutional, there was no stopping of this practice. In November 2017, she was shocked to receive a video message on Whatsapp from her husband, Yawar Khan, who gave her a divorce due to the disputes between them and his disinterest in her. Prior to this, she had filed a domestic violence case against her husband in a Session’s Court. It was during a hearing of this case that she showed the court the video her husband sent, which the court declared as illegal. Continuing her fight, she is now going to file a petition against her husband in the Bombay High Court for contempt of the top court’s order on triple talaq.