NEW DELHI:In Denied by Allah, Noor Zaheer’s latest book, published by Vitasta, the writer and researcher discusses the relevance of medieval Islamic laws that only end up violating the dignity of the women in the community. This evocative excerpt on the story of Rubaiya Ahmed deals with the practice of Halala:

Holding a placard, ‘Halala is nothing but the vilest of rapes’, the frail and waif-like Rubaiya Ahmed stands in the centre of a group of forty-odd women protesting the draconian laws for women in Islam at the Hazrat Mahal Park in Lucknow. …

Rubaiya Ahmed is sixty-three years old. Socially speaking she should be praying most of the time to improve her lot in the afterlife. Many would expect her to be preparing for Hajj, turning her back on material possessions, passing her delectable recipes as family heirlooms to her daughters-in-law, and taxing her memory for bedtime stories for her grandchildren. She should certainly not be standing in the relentlessly beating sun, protesting about something that women are too ashamed to even discuss among themselves, holding a placard that seems too heavy for her thin arms, shouting slogans that nobody cares to hear or register.

“Yes, thirty-eight years have passed. But does the brain have the capacity to erase what has been etched on one’s soul?” …

Triple Talaq was pronounced in one go, in a fit of anger, on a trivial altercation. There were witnesses around, so no hiding it, and since talaq has a conclusiveness about it, there was no going back. After sleeping over the incident, the husband’s anger had dissipated. He had requested, even begged the witnesses to forget the previous night. But it was already too late. Word had reached the local maulvi and he had arrived with the ‘Holy Quran’ asking the witnesses to swear with their hand on the Holy Book that the talaq had not been pronounced. Naturally, no one was willing to do so, and the talaq formally came into existence with the period of iddat beginning from the same day.

“My husband’s sister came to see me a week after that. My children were crying for me; there was no one to look after them. My husband was missing me and wanted me back and so a Halala had been fixed.

“How could I do it? How could I sleep with a man for a single night? And what about my husband? How would he accept me back as his life partner, as his wife? — A woman who had gone to another man for a night. How was I then different from a prostitute? She would spend a night with a man to earn some money, I would be doing the same to earn a family.

“I said all this and my sister-in-law argued back, contesting every point, persuading me to come back and take care of what was mine and to accept this path since it was the only one open to me.

“Then I asked that last, perhaps the most important question. ‘Who was this who was willing to do this for me and my family? Who was this man I should be treating as an angel but I could only think of as a fiend, as a usurper, as a luster?’

“My sister-in-law looked the other way, then down at her feet, then held my hand and said, ‘I do not mind’.”

“You mean….”

“It is my husband. He would be good to you. And then it is just for one night.”

One night! Is there a difference in being raped and defiled once or several times? Rape remains rape.

“Please agree, Bhabhi. Accept this one punishment for a life of bliss.”

“She was right. Punishment it was; but for what crime? I had not committed one. If anyone was at fault it was my husband. He was the one who should have been taken to task for losing his temper; punished for going to the extent of even thinking of talaq, and publicly humiliated for putting his lawfully wedded wife through this mental agony and torture. Instead, he was to go scot-free and I was to be punished. I bore the humiliation of being a divorcee, the pain of separation from my children, the indignity of allowing an unknown man into my bed. I accepted his roving, grabbing, fondling, probing hands, quelling the revulsion that rose in each cell of my body. How many times would he rape me through the night? I would live every moment of that single night marriage with the tension of whether he would or not pronounce talaq the next day. Would he or would he not set me free? His wife, my sister-in-law had agreed to his second marriage. What was to stop him from not divorcing me for as long as he liked? …

“I am here because I do not want this to happen to any other woman. I want the law to be changed; I demand a life of dignity!”

Rubaiya belonged to the middle class. She was a graduate and had been working in a village school before being married. Once married, she had given up her job but not given up reading. From newspapers and magazines to serious novels and poetry—she dedicated at least four to five hours to keeping herself informed of national and international politics and social debates. In her late fifties, she had taken a short course of applied computers and was now an asset to the organisation that took up cases related to ‘Muslim Personal Law’, handling the correspondence, counselling the victims and compiling the monthly newsletter.

Talking about the purity of the woman that patriarchy upholds with all its strength, Rubaiya asks, “If the Halala and talaq are lawfully conducted, does it mean an end to a woman’s indignity? What after that? For my husband I had been so negligible an entity that he could divorce me over a petty quarrel (something that happens all the time between every husband and wife), get me married to another man, and get him to divorce me. Would he marry me again after the period of iddat? Suppose he was to change his mind—suppose he could not come to terms with an impure woman who had been defiled by another man. Where would I be then? ...”

(Excerpts from Denied By Allah Angst against the archaic laws of Halala, Triple Talaq, Mut’ah marriage and Khula By Noor Zaheer; Published by Vitasta Publication; Pages: 150; Pp: Rs 250)

(Women's Feature Service)