(Trigger warning: This story is about domestic violence and the content could be distressing for some readers. Reader discretion is advised.)
"My sister Nazia, whom you tried to speak to last night about her case... I wanted to inform you that she has died...."
The phone beeped with this message from 23-year-old Nazia's brother, Mohammad Zahid. Ten hours earlier, Nazia had been lying on her bed, barely able to move and keep her eyes open when this reporter had briefly seen her. Unable to speak, her mother, 60-year-old Sawra, went on to explain the dowry demands, domestic violence and trauma her daughter was subjected to in her eight month long marriage. The final act of harassment was being given a divorce through instant triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat), a practice that was declared illegal through a law in 2019.
"They used to beat her up constantly and treat her in an inhuman manner. They would not give her food to eat or let her use the fan or cooler. They also made her have a bath in cold water. She developed infections and eventually needed surgery for her stomach too. Through all this, he would threaten us that if we went to the police, he would divorce her. Not going to the police didn't help, as on 28 June earlier this year he gave her triple talaq anyway," Sawra says, sobbing.
As it has been two years since the passage of the triple talaq law — titled Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 — we decided to look at various cases, including speaking to Nazia. She was too unwell to speak then but her family spoke to us in detail. Not only did the family say that they were unhappy with the investigation since the FIR was registered three weeks ago, they also gave shocking details about domestic abuse that preceded Nazia's death.
While the family is yet to receive the post-mortem report, they believe it is months of violence, abuse and bad living conditions that led to their daughter's death.
The Quint spoke to her family in detail, reached out to police officials and spoke to the accused himself. While the accused - Abid - has claimed that the allegations against him are baseless, DCP Jaipur City (North) Paris Anil Deshmukh said, "Now that Nazia has died, another case has been registered against the accused under Section 304 (dowry death, death of wife within seven years of marriage) of the Indian Penal Code".
Other than covering this brutal case in itself, we also spoke to experts to shed light on the social and legal aspects that contributed to putting Nazia in this predicament. We spoke to lawyers Rukhsar Memon and Firdouse Qutb Wani and Bharat Muslim Mahila Aandolan co-founder Noorjahan Safia Niaz.
The 8 Month Long Marriage: Plagued With 'Abuse, Trauma and Dowry Demands'
The fear that her husband would divorce her is what kept Nazia's family from filing a case against him for months. Repeated attempts were made to compromise in an eight-month marriage in which Nazia and her family were constantly harassed.
It began with dowry demands.
"The man would keep asking for dowry, so we paid Rs 50,000 to them after marriage. After barely one month, the violence began. They would make her starve, they would not let me talk to my daughter and this went on and on," Sawra said.
During Ramzan this year, Nazia was unwell and Abid was in no mood to take care of his wife. He dropped her to her mother's home and said he was not interested in her anymore, Sawra says. She added that he again threatened them that if this went to the police, he would give Nazia triple talaq.
Nazia stayed home and this is when her family learnt more about her ordeal. However despite this, 'family members and relatives got involved' to 'help' send Nazia back to Abid.
"People who knew both sides, helped mediate between the two families and we sent her back home," Sawra says.
The next 22 days were unspeakable for Nazia.
On 28 June all hell broke loose.
"This is the day I went to see why she was unwell. As I reached, they thrashed her again in front of me. He tried to choke her in front of my eyes and then picked her and threw her against the wall. He then threw us out. In a fit of rage, he gave her triple talaq," Sawra said, recalling how she brought a frail, unwell, mentally disturbed Nazia back home. She learnt now that Nazia had not been given food for twenty-odd days.
Since then Abid's family did not contact them, but Nazia's family had still not registered any complaint.
Nazia's Condition Deteriorated, Leading to an FIR Finally Being Registered
Nazia was unable to drink milk, urinate or move by herself.
Sawra and Zahid took Nazia from one doctor to another. Several blood reports and injections later, she was hospitalised in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on 3 July (earlier this year) as her condition deteriorated. She was also extremely unhappy, her mental health taking a hit after repeated trauma.
"It was after she was admitted to a hospital that we registered a complaint at the Uttar Mahila Thana in Jaipur, opposite Hawa Mahal," her family says.
A case was registered under Section 498 - A (cruelty by husband and her relatives), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and sections 3 and 4 of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act.
Section 3 says that any pronouncement of talaq by a Muslim husband upon his wife, by words, which can be either spoken or written or it can be in electronic form or in any other manner which shall stand to be void and illegal.
Section 4 lays down the order for payment of maintenance of the woman, which the husband must continue to do.
When it comes to the IPC charges, Section 506, 498-A are non-bailable and cognizable offences, while 323 is non-cognizable and bailable. However all these charges carry a punishment of less than seven years, which as per procedure in law, does not allow them to directly arrest the accused.
Now while the family may want to see the accused behind bars, DCP Deshmukh told The Quint why that did not happen. "According to the Lalita Kumari judgment and Section 41A of the CrPC, the law clearly states that in offences where the punishment is less than seven years of imprisonment, the police has to issue a notice to the accused, and if the accuse complies and appears at the police station, then there is no need of arrest," Deshmukh explained.
Nazia's Family Was Hesitant to Register the Complaint
Nazia's family says no one dissuaded them from filing the complaint under the triple talaq law as the nature of the abuse was so revolting. However, they were themselves hesitant.
"To move court against triple talaq is not a part of our religion, but we were forced to do this. In front of us he kept saying that if we report the matter to the police, then he will divorce her. They beat her up so badly that she could not stand, we were pushed to file a case," Sawra says.
Zahid said that Abid's actions were not in line with Islam and its teachings. "The law is good," he said.
Nazia's Family Claims Police Did Nothing, Abid Said He Was Called for Questioning
After the case was registered, Nazia's family claims that the police has done nothing. "Nothing has happened in the case since my sister gave her statement to the police. She told them about the triple talaq and the abuse, but ever since Abid and his family are roaming around, eating and living peacefully," Zahid said.
Regarding any progress in the case, and this is where the implementation of law comes in to focus, Zahid said the police took Nazia's statement and asked them if they wanted a meeting.
"The police official asked us if we want to send Nazia for a meeting. We asked the police if our sister was even in a condition to go for a meeting," Zahid says, adding that he then asked the police how they could even suggest this.
The Quint made repeated attempts to reach out to Abid, who said the allegations against him were baseless. He also said that the police had issued him a notice and he had gone for questioning. "Like the law is being misused on others, it is being misused on me. I would take care of her, but her mother took her away. I let her use the fan and everything," he said, adding that the family did not inform him of Nazia's death. But when asked, he says he had not called them either.
Nazia's family is repulsed by Abid's allegations.
Zahid says, "My sister did not even have headaches when she married this man, she was happy and healthy. But, within eight months she fell so sick that she died? He gave her medicines for a total of 4-5 days in their eight months of marriage, we did everything else."
Rukshar Memon, who is the lawyer for Jannat Begum Patel, the first woman to register a case of triple talaq in the country after the law was enacted in August 2019, says, "This crime is cognizable, which means arrest is imminent, but ye sab sirf bolne ke liye (this does not happen). The fact is that the accused does not get arrested. The man roams around free in society, while the woman waits for the case to progress in agony," Memon explained.
Investigation Transferred to Special Investigation Unit for Crime Against Women
Nazia's agony ended on 27 July, when she breathed her last.
With Nazia's death, Abid and his mother are now accused in another FIR under Section 304B of the IPC, DCP Deshmukh said. This is something they or Nazia's family do not know about when asked by this reporter.
"After the woman's death, a separate case has been registered. The investigation has been transferred to ACP rank officer, Deepak Khandelwal, of the Special Investigation Unit for Crime Against Women. He will investigate the case. With her death, 304B of the IPC will be added, as there is also a previous complaint in the case. Now the accused will be arrested as the punishment is not less than seven years for this offence."
When we reached out to ACP Khandelwal, he told this reporter that the case was yet to be transferred to him officially, but assured us of proper investigation.
After being informed of this development, Zahid said, "I am grateful that this is happening. My sister has died, nothing can change that, but I hope this man does not harass another woman like this..."
85% Drop In Reported Cases of Triple Talaq: BMMA
While Nazia's case is a shocking one, BMMA co-founder Noorjehan claimed that there was a decline of about 85 percent in the number of reported cases of instant divorce. However, the number of cases that appear have a similar pattern of dowry demands, affairs, violence and then divorce.
Advocate Firdouse Qutb Wani shed light on how the law the woman also has a right to give divorce, but that awareness has not been created in the community by the community leaders. "The problem is that leaders in our community do not even want to tell the women what their rights are. It is the fault of the community that the situation has gotten so bad," Wani says.
When we asked Sawra, Nazia's mother if the wife's right to divorce was a part of her marriage contract, but she did not know about the provision and said it was not included in her daughter's contract.
Another problem is the stigma attached to going to the police. Even in the case of Nazia, the family waited for her to be in ICU to use the law. Commenting on the nature of stigma, Memon said, "The woman is told she is silly to have done this, that she has a child and going to the court is wrong. It is almost like the woman is expected to not say anything about being given triple talaq and just continue to live with the circumstance she is put in."