A Muslim Woman’s Biggest Fear Is the Reckless Use of Triple Talaq
Triple talaq made headlines yet again on 8 December. This time, the contentious issue made news after the Allahabad High Court examined the case of a 23-year-old girl who asked for court protection and alleged that she was being harassed by her family for marrying a 53-year-old married man.
The court dismissed the case after the man admitted that he had given triple talaq to his wife and had abandoned his two minor children, on the orders of the young woman.
In its judgement, the court said that instant triple talaq is cruel and demeaning. The single judge bench suggested that the Muslim personal law needs amendment to alleviate the suffering of Muslim women.
“Leaving such a large population to the whims and fancies of a personal law that perpetuates gender inequality and is regressive... impedes and drags India from becoming a nation,” the judge said, while dismissing the case.
Missing the Point
While the high court verdict drew strong reactions from all quarters, many appeared to gloss over the fact that the matter before the court was NOT about talaq or second marriage.
Prof Tahir Mahmood, former chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, stated that the case was about according protection to the respondent, named Hina, who alleged harassment by her family.
While dismissing the appeal, the court made certain observations pertaining to the unequal treatment meted out to women under the purview of the Muslim personal law.
What the court found repugnant was the fact that the man used the instrument of instant triple talaq for his ulterior motives – abandoning his wife and minor children. The fact that the couple were adults (albeit the girl was half his age) and free to marry was duly recognised. Having said that, the court refrained from further comment because the larger matter was being examined by the Supreme Court.
Fact-Finding Report in 2000
As a member of the NCW, I wrote the report, ‘Status of Muslim Women’ in 2000. It was titled, ‘Voice of the Voiceless’. The report was based on the public hearings of the Muslim women conducted across India in 18 places. Its findings, along with its recommendations, were addressed to the government, to the Ulemas and to the civil society. I urged the community to heed the voice of the Muslim women which was loud and clear about their dread of instant triple talaq.
These women were also worried that their husbands would remarry without leaving them with Mehr or maintenance. The fact that the Quran lays down very strict conditions both for talaq and remarriage is indication that the woman's rights must be protected. It was also a pointer in the direction of incremental empowerment of women until their status became equal to that of men.
The report emphasised that the Muslim community was responsible for ensuring that this spirit of Islam was upheld in all matters pertaining to the Sharia. Sadly, the report sank without even so much so as a ripple in the plethora of such documents, despite the fact that it was written by the apex statutory body for women. Over the years, Islam has been seen as being anti-gender and retrograde rather than as the religion that gave the greatest dignity and rights to the women.
Instrument of Recklessness
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court raised the issue of rights of the Muslim women while examining the Shayara Bano case. Muslim bodies like the AIMPLB and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind submitted affidavits disputing the court's jurisdiction in personal laws. Women's groups wanted a ban on anti-women practices in personal laws. One year has gone by and the matter may now be heard next year by a constitutional bench which will be headed by the next Chief Justice. This is the barebones status of this issue.
But he comments on it being used as an instrument of profligacy, used at will to dump an older wife for a young woman. Had the clerics who profess to be guardians of faith heeded the women's voices captured in the NCW report of 2000 and spoken against this practice themselves, the matter may have been settled long ago.
Getting Our House in Order
In the present case, there has been a gross violation of the spirit of Islam by the man who threw out his wife and children to satisfy his desire for a young woman and had the temerity to use the personal law as a fig leaf. As a believing and practicing Muslim, I condemn it. After reading the judgement, I find nothing objectionable in the remarks of the learned judge. He has understood the spirit of Islam and has spoken about it with respect. But unless we wake up and put our own house in order, more such indictments will be made in the coming months.
We should have acted 17 years ago when the 'voiceless' spoke and the NCW took their voices to places and people who could have affected the change.
(The writer is a former member of the Planning Commission. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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