Talaq, talaq, talaq: The lives torn apart
Afrin was always fond of the social media. For the 22-year-old Shahjahanpur resident, it was a form of refuge –an escape from a life torn apart by four years of a tumultuous marriage.
One chilly January evening this year, she was lost in a happy reverie, scrolling down her Facebook timeline, featuring mundane updates on love, life and poetry, punctuated with news, when a post hit her. It was from her husband. "Talaq, Talaq, Talaq, it said.
Afrin read the three words over and over again as her three-year-old daughter scattered toys all over the bed, some of which fell to the floor with a loud jangle. It was merely the beginning of Afrin's trial. A day later, her mobile beeped with an incoming message. It read, "Talaq, Talaq, Talaq .
Her husband had expressed his determination loud and clear. As if the relentless torture with unending dowry demands was not enough, Afrin was now being booted out.
"She was always happy as a child. But the incidents seem to have irreversibly changed her life," Afrin's mother, Fareeda Begum, told PTI from Uttar Pradesh's Shahjahanpur. Afrin has been taken to a relative's house, away from her maternal home, as the husband's family has been threatening to take her daughter away, her mother said.
Her husband's way to annul the marriage, which in Islam is a civil contract based on consent, has broken Afrin's spirit. And it is this form of termination that is at the heart of a raging dispute on the practice of triple talaq.
The issue came to the fore in February last year when Shayara Bano, a triple talaq victim, petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking a ban on the divorce form, polygamy and nikah halala, a practice under which a divorced Muslim woman has to marry again, consummate the marriage and then break it if she wants to go back to her first husband. Thousands of Muslim women across the country have since formed pressure groups and spearheaded signature campaigns demanding the abolition of the practice.
Shayara's case has been clubbed with a clutch of similar petitions by the apex court, which will hear the matter from May 11. The Centre has already taken a stand against triple talaq.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) claims Shariat upholds the validity of triple talaq - under which a Muslim husband can divorce his wife by merely pronouncing the word "talaq" three times.
Talaq, or divorce, can be obtained in either of two ways.
Under 'talaq-ul-sunnat', there has to be a three-month period, called 'iddat', between the pronouncement of talaq by a husband and a lawful separation. But 'talaq-e-bidat' authorises a man to do so in a single sitting.
However, over the years, a campaign against triple talaq which experts say finds no mention in the Quran –has snowballed into a movement, riding on the woes of thousands of Muslim women whose husbands have walked off by just uttering these three words. Some took absurd routes, such as pronouncing talaq in text messages and, in recent times, on Facebook.
Like several others, Afrin has mustered the courage to approach the police against her husband who took advantage of the contentious provisions of the Muslim Personal Law.
As the debate on triple talaq, polygamy and nikal halala rages, these women from across the country are fighting a battle not just with the law board but within themselves as they find their lives weighed down by the stigma attached to divorces.
Take 24-year-old Rubina, who married an affluent man double her age, in 2015 to be able to financially support her family. But soon after marriage, he started threatening her with divorce.
"Society has completely ostracised me and people molest me or behave inappropriately when I go for job interviews," Rubina, who has been living away from her husband, said. "I have nowhere to go."
Some of these victims have knocked the door of the apex court seeking a stringent law against these "oppressive" practices, hoping to safeguard the future of other women and balance gender equations within the community.
Among those seeking change is Rizwana, a 33-year-old Railways employee in Delhi. One of the petitioners in the SC against polygamy, she married Indian Air Force employee Mohammed Khalid in 2012. But Khalid, it turned out, had deceitfully married her by concealing his two previous marriages, which she discovered within a year of their marriage. "I found two dependant cards in my husband's bag issued by the Air Force which carried names and photographs of two women addressed as his spouse," she said. When Rizwana sought a divorce, Khalid held that Islam allowed him to marry without divorcing his wives.
Being a government servant may have made Rizwana financially independent, but it took away from her the right to alimony or any kind of monetary relief from her estranged husband. "In our country, women with government jobs are not entitled to alimony. Men want to marry a woman who holds a government job, then torture her for dowry and easily divorce her without the fear of liability," she said. Agencies
AIMPLB to adopt social media to clarify Sharia laws
In a bid to clear confusion over Sharia laws, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has decided to tread the social media path and also explore the possibility of starting a TV news channel and newspaper. The board has decided to constitute a special social media committee, which will provide clear information about various issues pertaining to divorce, marriage, halala, warisana haq (inhertiance rights) and women's rights among other issues. It will also convey the board's stand on these contentious issues.
"Senior office bearers along with a large section feel the medium through which Sharia laws are being criticised, the same medium should be utilised to register our presence and also to present the right picture of things," AIMPLB senior executive member Maulana Yasin Usmani said. He said that in the executive meeting of AIMPLB in Lucknow on April 15 and 16, this issue cropped up and it was decided to form a social media panel.