Triple talaq is a part of Muslim law, where talaq means divorce. Triple talaq is a form of instant divorce where the man can end his marriage with a woman, either by uttering the word talaq three times, or via other formats such as writing.
Most Islamic countries had banned triple talaq, but the custom continued in India despite several protests and legal efforts until it was finally declared unconstitutional in 2017.
Hasina Khan is a feminist activist, founder of the Bebaak Collective, and one of the petitioners who worked on ending triple talaq, in 2017.
In conversation with Youth Ki Awaaz, she talks about the significance of the court decision, the BJP’s attempts to co-opt the movement, and the nature of Hindutva in India.
Prabhanu Kumar Das (PKD): When Triple talaq was declared unconstitutional in 2017 by the SC, how significant was it for Muslim women in India?
Hasina Khan (HK): It is an important judgment, it is a very historical judgment. Historical because for many years before the judgment, many women have gone to court about this issue and raised their voices. The court always recognized individual cases, from Shah Bano in 1987 to Shayara Bano in 2017, many women had gone to court about polygamy or triple talaq.
However, these were all individual judgments, this judgment is historic because the court made the practice completely null and void. According to personal law, the marriage contract would be null and void after divorce.
This judgment has given Muslim women power and a negotiable space where they can raise their voices and negotiate with their husbands during the divorce.
Before 2017, the woman who was given instant talaq would not have any contract with the husband or his family. There were also cases of divorce where the husband would forcibly say that his wife has a bad character which is why I am giving her talaq.
These kinds of talaqnama (divorce papers) had a huge impact on the woman’s life as the talaq documents declaring them a bad character would be an official document linked to her and she couldn’t raise any argument against it. These women would face a lot of issues in offices, for passports, etc where they would have to show their talaqnama. A talaqnama in which the woman has no say acting like a character certificate is very problematic.
This judgment has given the woman the right to talk about this, to talk about their rights, their household disputes. The ending of the marriage contract won’t be one-sided, and there will be space for both parties.
PKD: What was it like campaigning for triple talaq to be declared unconstitutional? What were some of the major issues and opposition you faced?
HK: There were two things.
The first was that when we filed the triple talaq petition in court, within the Muslim community there were many different views. Religious conservative organizations targetted us, they would speak about us to people and tell people not to go to these types of organizations, don’t associate with them, or let women join them.
Within the social reform movement, there were different points of view too. Some believed that we shouldn’t have approached the court because a Hindutva government is in power and they will try to manipulate the issue. However, some said that the issue is important and we should go forward with the petition. Many organizations and collectives came out in support of the movement.
The other challenge we faced was the Hindutva BJP trying to co-opt the movement. We were angry and scared of this co-option. The BJP saw itself as judicial power.
Muslim women had gone to the court, not any particular party but the government tried to take full credit. They celebrated their ‘contribution’ in the UP Manifesto and the August 15 speech. They were trying to show that they were the saviours of Muslim women. We had many challenges, but the biggest one was the BJP government. They were able to polarize the Muslim population by acting as protectors of Muslim women and Muslim women who were campaigning, especially on this issue also faced policing about rectifying the issue within the community.
PKD: How do you view the 2019 law by the BJP criminalizing triple talaq after it was declared unconstitutional in 2017? Do you think it was necessary or is the BJP looking to use this law to further criminalize Muslims?
HK: That is exactly what it was, criminalization of Muslims is their agenda. Taking the name of Muslim women, they wanted to target Muslim men. Throughout the country, they wanted to paint Muslim men as aggressive, patriarchal and perpetuating violence against women.
We all know that in every community, be it Hindu, Muslim, or any other, there are always patriarchal norms, practices, gender biases, religious biases, and fanatics. These groups have always tried to control women and youth’s voices, bodies, and sexuality in their communities. We can see this at the global level.
We should look at the court’s decision and the criminalization by the BJP in 2019.
The court said that if anyone gives triple talaq, it is invalid. BJP’s criminalization said that if anyone gives triple talaq, we will send them to jail.
The government thinks giving a punishment will stop the practice but that is not true. Fear of punishment won’t stop these criminal acts. For example, capital punishment won’t stop cases of rape.
With punishment, are you giving justice to the survivor? They say they are punishing the accused but how will that give justice to the survivor of triple talaq. We thought about challenging the criminalization, but we found out that the Supreme Court rejected all such petitions. Our criticism was that criminalizing triple talaq won’t help women because there is no justice for women in this bill. There are no provisions for the protection and rights of the woman.
At Bebaak Collective, we know that this government will try to use Muslim women for their gain, but we need to speak out against them and face the flak of challenging the BJP. A particular TV channel spoke about us for two hours, used our names, and our photos to spread their propaganda, and that we are maligning Narendra Modi’s image. We used to get trolls on social media when we posted anything.
PKD: The BJP claimed that it is for Muslim women and their rights. After seeing the BJP and its supporters’ misogynistic reaction to the CAA protests where Muslim women were at the forefront, can we assign any value to the BJP’s 2019 claim about standing for Muslim women’s rights?
HK: For Hindutva, our protests and Muslim women coming out to the streets to demand their rights was very threatening. They thought that Muslim women had no voice, ‘woh burqa aur chulle mai hi andar rahegi (they will hide behind their burqa in the kitchen)’, they won’t come out.
The voices and strength that came out at the national level in a powerful non-violent way, holding the Constitution and Ambedkar close, was a challenge to the BJP.
The politics they were doing in the name of Muslim women were given a fitting answer by the Sheroes of Shaheen Bagh. In the history of Muslim women, the Shaheen Bagh protest will be a glowing moment. Unfortunately, the lockdown and the pandemic stopped a lot of our movements but the current farmer’s protest gives a lot of strength to the people’s movement.
PKD: Is there anything else you might want to highlight to our readers about how BJP/RSS’s Hindutva operates in regards to Muslim women?
HK: They recently declared August 1 as Muslim Women’s Rights Day. ‘Kya sochke banaya tha’ (what were they thinking)? They forgot the rights of Gulfisha Fatima, Safoora Zargar, Umar Khalid, and Khalid Saifi’s mother, and the others who they have jailed.
Are these women not Muslim women who the government claims to care so much about?
All of the families that have been targeted in the name of Beef. All of those that have been murdered in the name of beef, do they not have women in their homes? All of this that the BJP claims are a hollow lie to influence the larger Indian community.
In this way, you can compare the BJP to the Taliban. 20 years ago, the USA also entered Afghanistan thumping their chest about protecting Afghan Muslim women. You can see the BJP trying the same facade in India, except in this case, in my opinion, the BJP is also the Taliban.
The Hindutva idealogy is Talibani idealogy like the Taliban speaks about Shariat and how women should act within it, this government also speaks the same way about their Hindutvadi idealogy and Hindu nation. This is not their dream anymore, they have already done it. Look at Gujarat, UP, Assam, and several other Indian states.
There is no difference between the two and groups like this will always target women while also easily claiming that they are doing it in the name of women.