'Muslim Women Want An End to Triple Talaq And End it Will'
AHMEDABAD: The Supreme Court verdict on triple talaq is keenly awaited by all. The discourse around this issue particularly in the last about eighteen months reinforces the fact that we are a patriarchal society and the cause of gender justice is largely left for the women themselves to fight.
There have been a number of articles in the media written by academics of muslim background and some others trying to suggest that triple talaq is not such a burning issue after all. Some have taken pains to discover merit in the nonsensical and patriarchal arguments forwarded by the Muslim Personal Law Board; a lawyer has been arguing that Hindu women too face injustice; most of them have raised concern over secularism being under threat; some have spoken about the dangers of the ideology of the government.
None of this deterred the Muslim women who have courageously campaigned for an end to this unjust and unQuranic practice.
Indeed the question arises as to where are all these people when ordinary muslim women get thrown out of their homes after being divorced unilaterally and instantly through the triple talaq method. True that some of them want to oppose the government. But triple talaq is an injustice against Muslim women and the women themselves have built the movement for its abolition.
It must be said that these worthy champions must find another site for opposing the central government for Muslim women are in no mood for tolerating any hurdles in the path of their democratic demand for justice and equality. In any case, these individuals don’t have any legitimacy to speak on the issue since they never bothered engaging on the issues of Muslim women.
It shows utter bankruptcy of their thinking when they term the current demand for abolition of triple talaq as some kind of Hindutva conspiracy. They do this because it is expedient for them rather than admit that Muslim womens’ grievances are genuine. They wish to brush the Muslim womens’ concerns under the carpet by resorting to this convenient pretext. It is pathetic that they just can’t accept the agency of the women themselves leave alone appreciate it.
The Muslim women are bringing about ijtihad through their conviction and actions; they want to be equal Muslims and equal citizens.
Let us remember that triple talaq takes place in our society despite there being no sanction for it in the Quran whatsoever. It is well-known that there are anecdotes from the life of the Prophet making it amply clear how the Prophet considered triple talaq an unacceptable evil.
There are clearly laid down verses in the Quran calling for attempts towards reconciliation involving both wife and husband as well as mediation by members of both families. This process must go on for at least ninety days before it is decided that the differences are irreconcilable after which the divorce can happen in a just and fair manner.
This truth lies at the core of the triple talaq issue and the rest of the arguments are attempts at obfuscation to preserve male hegemony and privilege. Triple talaq is repugnant to religion and humanity and must be shunned totally.
The proponents of status quo were in deep slumber till the centre filed its affidavit in the Supreme Court supporting abolition of triple talaq. Now it became very necessary for the misguided experts to run the efforts of Muslim women seeking justice and discover merit in the ever changing statements of the Personal Law Board. But in reality it is their own patriarchal worldview that they have exposed.
The BJP has been in power at the centre only for three years.Would their stand have been any differen t if there was a UPA government in power? There was no BJP government in 1986 when Shah Bano was silenced by the Muslim patriarchs in collusion with the then government. Should we allow for continuance of male-dominated status quo just because PM Modi spoke about triple talaq?
What prevented other political parties from coming out openly in support of Muslim women? It is being said that the BJP got Muslim votes in UP by talking about triple talaq. Why the other political parties not talk about triple talaq remains a mystery. Should so-called secular political parties continue to have a nexus with the regressive patriarchal elements forever to the detriment of women? This would be rank patriarchal and the opposite of secularism.
Our experience as a Muslim womens’ organization working across different states for over a decade now suggests that triple talaq causes lot of pain, destitution, economic uncertainty and emotional trauma for women.
In our study Seeking Justice Within Family, A National Study on Muslim Womens’ Views on Reforms in Muslim Personal Law conducted in Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka, Bihar, Tamilnadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Odisha, 4710 muslim women shared their personal stories.
Of the 525 divorced women, 346 or 65.9% were divorced verbally, 7.6% or 40 were divorced through a letter, 3.4% or 18 women were divorced on phone, 3 on email, 1 via sms and 117 women through other methods. In all, 78% or 408 women were divorced unilaterally and instantly.
We also found an overwhelming 88.3% or 4159 women wanted the legal divorce method to be the talaq-e-ahsan method spread over a period of 90 days and involving mutual negotiation and avoiding arbitrariness. 92.1% women wanted a total ban on oral/unilateral divorce or triple talaq. Besides over 47% women didn’t possess their own nikahnama. 92.1% women were clear that triple talaq should be abolished. Besides overwhelming 85% called for reform in Muslim Personal Law.
Abolition of triple talaq is long overdue and the Muslim women are demanding it vociferously. There are many cases pending before different family courts across the country. Besides, over half a dozen women have approached the Supreme Court. To say that it is a non-issue would be a lie.
The Census of 2011 puts the divorce rate among Muslims at 0.56% and 0.76% among Hindus. It is the unilateral arbitrary method of divorce which is being questioned by women more than the rate of divorce. Attempts are being made to suggest that triple talaq is a right given to man just as Khula [divorce initiated by wife] is a right given to woman. But the ground reality is different.
Our experience suggests that it is very difficult for a woman particularly from a poor background to exercise her right to khula as granted by the religion. Harassment begins the moment she expresses a desire for khula. She is asked to shell out money, forego her belongings, forego her mehr, give up her children... The path to khula is hardly as rosy as Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar seems to suggest in one of his columns. But even that does not take away the problem of triple talaq.
We are not under the illusion that Indian women, be they Hindu or Christian or Parsi have attained freedom and equality. But we know that Muslim women face legal discrimination in the absence of a codified personal law. Parliament has passed new laws and amended existing laws which govern personal matters of Hindus and Christians. Whereas the Shariat Application Act, 1937 gives no protection to the Muslim women from triple talaq, nikah halala, polygamy etc.
It is a collective failure of the political class towards the constitutional obligation of gender justice and gender equality which has allowed a practice such as triple talaq to continue unhindered.
The Constitution allows for both gender justice as well as religious freedom. Unilateral triple talaq can hardly be passed off as exercise of the right to religious freedom. As a matter of fact, the right to religious freedom is given equally to male as well as female citizens and it cannot be interpreted to mean a licence to men to subjugate women.
We are aware of over half a dozen judgments including the Bombay High Court judgment in Dagdu Pathan v/s Rahimbi in 2002 and the Supreme Court verdict in Shamim Ara in 2002 over-ruling the validity of triple talaq but those have not led to the curbing of this practice.
Besides, why should the husband be allowed an unfettered right to instant divorce? Why should the husband not be brought under the ambit of law? Why should it be the wife’s burden to go to court and challenge triple talaq and in the meantime the husband continues to enjoy normal life? Such disparity can hardly be allowed to continue in a democracy.
Today’s Muslim woman has understood that she is being discriminated by falsely using the name of religion. The modern Muslim woman knows that it is patriarchy masquerading as religion. She knows that gender justice is a fundamental principle of Islam. She is demanding her Quranic rights as well as her democratic rights.
The answer lies in comprehensive reform in Muslim Personal law. Abolition of triple talaq is the first step that must be followed by a widespread social reform movement. Muslim women are receiving support from ordinary citizens from different faith backgrounds.
Triple talaq must come to an end.
(Zakia Soman with Noorjehan Niaz is the Founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan that is campaigning for reforms in the Muslim Personal Law. The views expressed in this article are their own).