(This was first published on 1 August 2021. It has been republished from The Quint's archives to mark three years since the implementation of Triple Talaq Law.)
"In the Muslim community, women are the only ones who are criticised. I understand that the Quran says you can have up to four wives. So, my husband had two wives. But answer me, does Islam allow you to have an affair with a third woman? It does not. So, if the woman is raising her voice against being given instant triple talaq in such a circumstance, why are you calling her wrong? Should you not understand the trauma and her troubles. Why should I have to pay for his crime?"
These are the words of 34-year-old Jannat Begum Patel, the first woman in India to have registered a case on the allegation of instant triple talaq against her husband, 35-year-old Imtiyaz Ghulam Patel, in Mumbai on 2 August 2019.
While the law has led to a reduction of cases – almost 85 percent, according to activists – the complainants The Quint spoke to said they had got little benefit from it. This raises concerns regarding the law, its implementation and taunts from community members, which do not make their life any easier.
It has now been two years since the law against triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat) was passed, so we spoke to three complainants, lawyers and activists to understand if the law is benefiting women. The three women we spoke to had similar allegations of abuse. After marriage, there were dowry demands followed by domestic violence. Eventually, the women claim that the husbands gave them instant triple talaq.
Jannat: 'Community Told Me I Was Going Against Islam'
Jannat, who has completed her BEd and MBA, is concentrating on her future. "I will get a job soon. I will be financially independent and better placed to take care of my two and a half year old son." Jannat says she was seven months into her pregnancy when she was divorced.
It started with demands for money and jewellery, which she gave him from her savings. Then he hit her and finally divorced her. When Jannat approached the police, some community members came down heavily on her.
"Everyone told me I was going against Islam; that I was not right in involving the police. I would retort if they knew what my husband made me go through. Then they would shut up. My reasons are genuine, right? My character is not in question. I have not just randomly started an issue. So, why should I have to pay for my husband's criminal behaviour?" she asked.
She was made to feel that she was going against her religion.
"Yes, Islam allows divorce, but there is a process to it. Allah has given men the power. But (it is laid down that) you cannot hand out a divorce just like that. Above that, having an illegal relationship is also not acceptable in Islam right? Are women toys that you play with when you want to and then let them go."Jannat Begum Patel
Her husband allegedly had an affair after taking her in as a second wife.
While her community has not made her life any easier, Jannat's parents stood by her.
Regarding the case, she says Imtiyaz was granted bail. "He had applied for bail at the sessions court, which rejected his plea. He was then granted bail by the high court in March earlier this year." Jannat's lawyer Rukshar Memon explained why he got bail.
"This law states that the judge has to listen to the woman before granting the man bail. However, there is a technical issue as the law also states that the child and the woman have to be maintained by the family. Now, if the man is behind the bars, who is going to maintain them? So, while bail was rejected by the sessions court the first time, the understanding was that both parties will arrive at an arrangement," Memon said, adding that this is what leads to the man 'roaming around free without any real consequences'.
But Jannat claimed that Imtiyaz had not paid a paisa for her and their son's maintenance since the case was registered or the charge sheet filed.
Memon added that the community then asked the woman 'why she took such a step'; that 'she has a child and needs a man'; or that she was 'stupid to have taken the decision'. "You see, the woman pays the price," Memon added.
Jannat said that people taunted her for going to court.
"People say that I did so much but was unable to achieve anything. It is frustrating. So, I have decided to work on my own independence emotionally and financially. I do not care what people have to say as they are not paying to keep me and my child alive. I have worked very hard to build myself mentally and am hoping to get a job soon. My son will be brought up well by me. Who needs a man?"Jannat Begum Patel
'Divorced for Not Giving Birth to a Son, Refusing to Get Pregnant Again'
Rashika, who lives in Jaipur and has a child, said that the abuse became worse after she had a daughter. "I got married in 2015 and moved to Jaipur. I kept compromising. In the first year, there were demands for dowry. Then came the pressure to give birth to a son. But when I had my daughter, I saw them for who they really were. They left me in the hospital alone with my newborn," Rashika said.
In a marriage that lasted six years, they wanted Rashika to get pregnant again. She did not want to.
On Bakr Eid, 2020, there was a fight again, Rashika recalled. "I was asked to see if I was pregnant or not. They even thrashed me. I said I wanted to go home and my husband got angry and gave me instant talaq. My brother came and took me," she said.
Rashika returned home and thought she would not have to return to her unsafe marriage, but she was wrong, "We live in a society where men have all the respect while women's existence is not acknowledged (aadmi ki respect hai aur aurat ka koi vajood nahi hai). Despite everything I was put through, my family said we should wait a few days and go back to my in-laws' place. Eventually, I returned to my husband," she said, sounding broken.
But the problems did not end, and her case was registered in January 2021. She says the law does not deter the man from committing the crime, as he gets bail easily. "He was never arrested and his bail was granted. It's good that the law has been made. But what is the point when it is not able to help me?" she said.
The law makes it mandatory for the woman to be heard by the judge before granting bail to the accused. She confirmed to The Quint that while she does not know much about the case, she did oppose bail.
Rashika, who has done her BEd, said she had no regrets over what she did. "My family supported me and I am glad that I did not take the wrong decision, or a dead body would have returned instead of me," she says.
While Rashika is glad to be alive, another triple-talaq complainant from Jaipur was not that lucky.
Nazia (23) died after suffering months of domestic abuse, trauma and illness. The Quint interviewed her family about her case filed in July 2021, as she was not in the state to speak. Ten hours later, she died. "Her husband would threaten us that if we reported the abuse, he would divorce her. He still abused her and divorced her anyway," Nazia's mother, 60-year-old Sawra, said.
A detailed story about her ordeal culminating in death can be read here.
Consequences of the Law: Experts Weigh in on the Good and the Bad
We spoke to Bharat Muslim Mahila Aandolan co-founder Noorjahan Safia Niaz and Managing Partner at law-firm LCZF Firdouse Qutb Wani. Niaz said that the community had played a good role in accepting the law, due to which the number of cases had reduced. "We would get 35-odd cases a year. Since the law was enforced, we get 1-2 cases. BMMA is in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal, Delhi, and Madhya Pradesh. Based on our ground-level reach, we can say there has been a huge difference."
Wani said that within the Islamic framework of the law, there are ways in which women can end a marriage as well. However, the awareness in the community is lacking. The women we spoke to did not know about any such provision that should be a part of the nikahnama (marriage contract). "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," she said.
She pointed out four concerns regarding the law and its implementation.
Bitterness in Marriage When Divorce Illegal And Makes the Husband a 'Criminal'
"The first problem is that the offence has been criminalised, subject to the accused being proven guilty. But if you say that a triple talaq is itself illegal, it means the wife has not been divorced. She continues to be his wife. At the same time you are penalising the man by punishing him for a period of up to three years and a fine. With so much bitterness in the marriage, how would it last? How is this good for the woman?"
"If you look at rash and negligent driving, the sentence is two years. But here, you are saying that the divorce was not legal, but you will term what has happened a criminal offence and send the man to jail for up to three years. There are harsher crimes that have lesser penalty than this law. This is an effort, therefore, to marginalise a community further."
'Misuse of the law By Third Party'
"Thirdly, the law allows for not only the woman, but any person related to her by blood or marriage, to go and register a complaint against the man. So there have been cases wherein someone else files a complaint, and before the woman can go and clarify, the damage is already done. People misuse the law to take revenge."
'Misuse of the Law By the Wife'
"Fourthly, I have no qualms accepting that women have always been oppressed and suppressed in every community in our country. However, many a time false cases have been registered by women. Since there is no room for conversation before calling the man a criminal, petty fights become fake cases on many occasions."
Niaz from BMMA had also said that the law in itself should have had place for counselling so that there is space to arrive at a consensus if needed. The complaint here is compoundable under the law, which means that the woman can take it back anytime. However, when the man is called a criminal, there are very few chances for that to happen.