Editor's Note: The Supreme Court on Tuesday will pronounce a historic judgment on whether the practice of triple talaq among Muslims is fundamental to the religion. This article, originally published in May, 2017, is being republished in the view of the judgment.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court concluded the hearings on the abolition of triple talaq in response to the petitions filed by Muslim women. The abolition of triple talaq is long overdue in independent India. This unilateral, arbitrary practice results in women being thrown out of homes and rendered destitute in an instant. The husband can pronounce the three words in her absence, on phone, through a post card and the talaq or divorce just happens. The woman has no say in her own divorce and she must just submit to the whims and fancies of the husband who can decide instantly and unilaterally. Shayara Bano, Afreen, Ishratjahan, Atiya, Gulshan Parveen – all got divorced in an instant through this method. They petitioned the Supreme Court to put an end to this inhuman arbitrary practice.
The Quran, which is the sacred book for Muslims, does not validate this method of divorce. Instead, there is stress on efforts for reconciliation, mediation and dialogue between the couple in case of marital discord. If these efforts — which should go on at least for 90 days — fail, there can be a just and fair divorce. The question arises then about why triple talaq is allowed in our society. The simple answer is it takes place owing to patriarchal interpretations and distortions which rule the roost in our society in matters of marriage and divorce. This is illustrated amply by the latest affidavit filed by the personal law board in the apex court this week.The personal law board has intervened in the triple talaq matter in the Supreme Court to save triple talaq.
Their latest affidavit is a desperate move to preserve their own dominance and to prevent the court from acting in the matter on the side of gender justice.
The personal law board’s track record on triple talaq does not inspire any confidence in the women that they mean to uphold gender justice and gender equality. Sample these gems from their first affidavit which was filed in the Supreme Court in this matter: “Triple talaq is better than the husband killing the wife”. The right to divorce is given only to the husband because “men have more intelligence than women” and only men are capable of serious action.
The board is under some illusion that it has a statutory status and whatever it says will be followed. The fact is the board is a largely Sunni Hanafi body and then it expects that the non-Hanafi qazis will listen to them. In any case, it being only an NGO, it is not binding on any qazi to listen to them. 95 percent of women interviewed in our study had not even heard of the board.
Polygamy is some kind of social service performed by men if one were to believe the affidavit! So, why this u-turn now in the latest affidavit? This one talks about how they are planning to embark on a social awareness drive to stamp out triple talaq from society. It also says that the board will advise qazis to insist on a clause against triple talaq to be inserted in nikahnama at the time of the wedding. They have also said that those indulging in triple talaq would be socially boycotted. Clearly, they have been forced to put up this latest act as they desperately want to ward off any action from the Supreme Court. But can their intent change suddenly? Can the patriarchal elements who are instrumental in spreading distortions against women leading to practices such as triple talaq and nikah halala being passed off as “Islamic” have a change of heart? Can they really mean to root out triple talaq from society? And if so, why fear court action? It is precisely the verdict against triple talaq which is keenly awaited by all which has led to this latest gimmick from the personal law board.
For one, it has once again come to the fore that the so-called personal law board has very little understanding of the ground reality. A nikahnama is a legal document but only potentially. Our study published in 2015 found that over 47 percent women do not possess their own nikahnama and those who possessed the nikhanama were not much better off either. A typical nikahnama contains just basic details such as bride’s name, father’s name and not much beyond that. How then can it suddenly turn into an elaborate legal document that would protect a wife against triple talaq and other ills? How can a Muslim bride who is typically poor, unempowered and barely able to read/write understand and negotiate her own nikahnama? How can she beat a patriarchal set of male qazis and common sense of society that privileges husband over wife to insert legal clauses for her protection in the nikahnama? Especially when the personal law board has done nothing so far to popularise nikahnama as a legal document that every wife must negotiate and put to use as her safeguarding and legal protection!
If Muslim girls and women were so empowered, we would not be having the problem of triple talaq in the first place.
Besides, nobody knows how many qazis who operate on the ground are actually affiliated to the personal law board.
Social boycott is an idea that is antithetical to democracy. In our country, caste and untouchability are grave crimes that are punishable by law. Notions such as social boycott are at the root of caste and apartheid of any kind. How the personal law board can tout it as means to a noble goal such as abolition of triple talaq is hard to understand. Lastly, but very importantly, the women are seeking justice which they are entitled to as citizens in a democracy. They are knocking at the doors of the courts and the parliament. Women are not seeking charity or favour from any private bodies such as the personal law board. Women are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold gender justice and gender equality and rule against the patriarchal practice of triple talaq.
The authors are co-Founders of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
Updated Date: Aug 22, 2017 07:59 AM