By Lalita Panicker
Earlier this year, a Muslim woman from Meerut, Amreen Begum, uttered the words ‘Talaq, Talaq, Talaq’ after her husband abandoned her and her two small children. She knew that he would utter those fateful words shortly after he fled, so she pre-empted him. Many in the clergy and other organisations meant to represent Muslims were aghast. Amreen should have gone through a conventional process of divorce, many felt.
So it was heartening to hear the chairman of the national commission for minorities, Syed Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi, saying that a law is important to create fear among those following instant triple Talaq, though, perhaps, ‘fear’ is not quite the word I would have used. The Cabinet has now passed the triple Talaq bill. Under this draft law, a man attempting to divorce his wife through instant triple Talaq might find himself in prison for three years and having to pay a fine. The draft Muslim Women Protection on Rights on Marriage Bill has gone to the state governments for their views.
With each step, the possibility that this practice will soon be phased out is growing. Earlier, the Supreme Court threw its weight behind this by saying clearly that personal law cannot take precedence over a person’s fundamental rights. There is considered legal opinion that Talaq is not such an inextricable part of Islam that it must be given constitutional protection; on the contrary, it is a deeply flawed and anti-woman practice. No law which can be used at will by a man, which has the potential of destroying the life of a woman and her children, can be considered an intrinsic part of any religion which preaches tolerance and compassion.
But the truth is that it is not just the law or social activists who have driven the fight against triple Talaq. It has been Muslim women themselves. They have openly challenged the orthodoxy and refused to accept that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s regressive clergy has any overriding right to tell them how to run their lives or indeed be subservient to men to the extent of allowing them to strip them of all dignity.
But I don’t want to confine the argument to women’s rights versus male domination and callousness. What most debates and articles fail to highlight is that many Muslim men are very much on the side of women in the matter of gender rights, among which instant triple Talaq is a main one. Muslim women’s rights collectives have long been campaigning against the practices of triple Talaq, polygamy and Nikaah-Halala in India. Representatives of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) recently called for Muslim men to actively organise for gender just reform and against practices like triple Talaq.
Last year, hundreds of Muslim men responded to a call from the BMMA asking for support for their cause. The statement they issued read, “We, the undersigned, believe that gender equality and justice are human rights issues which must be as much a matter of concern for men as for women. If anything, it is more so men’s obligation to cry a halt to patriarchy, particularly when it is sought to be perpetuated in the name of God. We, therefore, fully support the campaign launched by the BMMA and other Muslim organisations and individuals for the abolition, and declaration as illegal, of triple Talaq (instant divorce) and Nikaah-Halala as being practised in India.”
According to a BMMA survey last year, 92% Muslim women want triple Talaq to be abolished. Of course, many from the community dismissed this as a plot to surreptitiously impose a uniform civil code on Muslims. But there is nothing anti-Muslim about seeking gender justice. The fact that the men who lent their voice to the cause of Muslim women included Resul Pookutty, Shafaat Khan and Feroz Abbas Khan among others really helped.
The message is quite clear. Triple Talaq should not be seen through a religious prism. It is an attempt to perpetuate patriarchy under the guise of upholding Islamic injunctions. As long as it is portrayed as a purely religious matter, many are loath to wade into the debate. But with Muslim women themselves coming out along with men to push the boundaries of the debate in the direction of rights, the tone and tenor has changed.
If the draft law goes through, this will be more power to the elbow of those fighting for change. Triple Talaq has long been abolished in many Islamic countries. India has some catching up to do.