LUCKNOW: Time and geography separate the late actress Meena Kumari and Zaib-un-Nisa of Gorakhpur. However, they are united by the instrument of their torment: Triple Talaq.
It is said that Meena Kumari was divorced by her husband Kamal Amrohi by uttering the word talaq three times. He regretted it later and wanted her back. But religious leaders decreed that the couple go through the process of halala – the divorced woman marrying another man first, consummating the marriage, securing a divorce by mutual consent from the second man and then reuniting with the first. She did the halala by marrying actress Zeenat Aman’s father Aman Ullah Khan before she could remarry Amrohi.
For Zaib-un-Nisa there was no such option. She was 80 years old. In a fit of anger, her husband Habib Shah, 90, uttered talaq three times. He is alone now left with nothing in this last phase of his life. His wife was his only support as the children had settled in their own lives. Habib Shah regrets his impulsive decision. He went to a cleric to make amends but the Maulana said he could not help. For Zaib-un-Nisa was too old for halala.
Zaib-un-Nisa’s case is just one of the many triple talaq cases that have started flooding the media. Triple talaq has suddenly become a burning issue with scores of women seeking legal action to address their plight. Back in August last year, the Supreme Court sought the Centre’s response to the issue and after several twists and turns, the matter is slated to be heard by the Constitution Bench from May 11.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) contests the many PILs filed by victims. It claims that any court order on triple talaq would be an infringement of Muslim community’s right to follow and profess its religion and the court has no right to interfere in the religious matter of a community.
AIMPLB also contends that the petitions are based on an incorrect understanding of the Muslim personal law and any legislative reform should be sensitive to the cultural context of India irrespective of the fact that other Muslim nations have stopped the practice.
Union government’s stance
The Union Law ministry filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on October 7, 2016 stating that triple talaq is essentially not a religious practice. It said the practice denies a woman access to her fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
The Centre has also stated that triple talaq and polygamy are violative of the fundamental right of gender equality and also take away women's right to live with dignity. In 22 Muslim countries including Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, reforms are taking place and laws related to divorce are being codified, it argued.
The AIMPLB is a divided house, however. Its vice-president Kalbe Sadiq claimed recently that the AIMPLB was itself contemplating to end the practice in the next 18 months. However, another prominent member of the board, Zafaryab Jilani ruled out any such move, calling Kalbe Sadiq’s statement as his personal opinion.
Muslim women’s stance
Many Muslim women organisations, including the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, have registered a strong protest against practice time and again, saying that it does not find any mention in Holy Quran and that it is a practice that validates male chauvinism in Muslim society.
“AIMPLB is not at all serious about the issue of triple talaq which is affecting the lives of many women. It is in no way compassionate about the women issues,” says Shaista Amber, president of ALMWPLB.
Some Muslim women leaders like the MP Tazeem Fatima feels that the law can be modified but not changed. But Salma Ansari, vice-president Hamid Ansari’s wife, rejects the practice outright, saying that the Quran doesn’t even mention anything about talaq.
“It is being practised whimsically for ages victimising Muslim women,” she said.
DIVORCE IN ISLAM
Divorce in Islam can take a variety of forms, some initiated by husband and some by the wife. The main traditional legal categories are talaq (repudiation), khul (mutual divorce), judicial divorce and oaths.
Triple talaq is an age-old practice that is in vogue mostly in the Sunni community.
The mere utterance of the word talaq thrice by a man to his wife dissolves marriage. The Quran however, does explain in verses contained in Chapter 2 (Surah Al-Baqarah) and Chapter 65 (Surah-At-Talaq) about the procedure of divorce.
However, Prophet Mohammad made it abundantly clear that "of all the things permitted by the Law, the most hateful in the sight of Allah is the divorce."
The Quran says: "A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness."
Nowhere in the Quran is there a mention of triple talaq in one sitting. Instead it insists on a waiting period (iddat) before any divorce is finalised. The Quran talks about divorce being permissible twice and then the couple should decide if they have to live together. If they decide to separate, it orders them to separate amicably and not allow the husband to usurp the lawful rights a woman has in such circumstances.
The Quran also asks the family to arbiter if differences between husband and wife have become irreconcilable.
What is AIMPLB?
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) is a non-governmental organisation. It was set up in 1973 with the purpose of overseeing the applicability of Muslim Personal Law in India. The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937 provides for the application of the Islamic Law Code to Muslims’ personal affairs. The Act applies to all matters of personal law except such succession.
The AIMPLB is an umbrella organisation with most of the Muslim sects represented in it. The board has a working committee of 41 ulema representing various schools of thought. In addition, it has a general body of 201 members, ulema as well as laymen, including about 25 women. The members include prominent Muslims from a cross-section of Muslim society such as religious leaders, scholars, lawyers, politicians and professionals.
The members are elected for three years. The working committee has a president, four vice-presidents and one general secretary.
AIMPLB drafted a model nikahnama in 2003 laying down specific guidelines and conditions under which a marriage can be annulled by both husband and wife.
Triple talaq: Nine developments
1. Triple talaq is an age-old practice that determines divorce among Muslims.
2. The utterance of talaq thrice by a man to his wife dissolves the marriage.
3. Early in June 2016, over 50,000 Muslim men and women signed a petition seeking a ban on triple talaq. The petition was initiated by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA). It sought the assistance of the National Commission for Women.
4. BMMA said triple talaq violates the rights of women and the tenets of Islam.
5. In August 2016 Supreme Court petitioner Ishrat Jahan pleaded that Section 2 of the Muslim Personal Law Application Act be declared unconstitutional.
6. Supreme Court issued notice to the central government demanding its clarification on the triple talaq issue.
7. AIMPLB objects to the move to scrap triple talaq. It says the apex court cannot interfere in the religious freedom of citizens. Personal laws cannot be challenged as it would amount to violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
9. The Union government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in October 7, 2016 saying that triple talaq is not an essential religious practice in Islam and that it violates the fundamental rights of women.
Triple talaq cases
Atiya Sabri, Saharanpur
Atiya Sabri married Wajid Ali in 2012 and became a mother of two. When she gave birth to her second daughter, Ali pronounced triple talaq without taking her consent. He proceeded to secure a validation of the divorce from the Darul Uloom Deoband. However, police intervened and registered a dowry case under against him and his family for harassing Atiya. Atiya filed a petition against the Darul Uloom Deoband.
Rehana of Aligarh
Rehana’s husband uttered talaq thrice and threw her out of the house. Clad in a burqa, she and their four-year-old daughter beat the doors of her house with all her might to no response from inside. She then sat on a dharna in front of the house. Rehana said she was divorced as she had not agreed to her husband’s second marriage to another woman.
Moreover, her father could not arrange Rs 10 lakh sought by her in-laws. No cleric or religious leader helped her get justice.
The Saharanpur woman is a mother of two girls and was married for five years. She was divorced by her husband when she got pregnant a third time and refused to abort the child as demanded by her husband and her in-laws who feared that it would be a girl again. “My husband thrashed me and uttered talaq. I went unconscious. On regaining consciousness, I contacted my parents,” she said in a petition to PM Narendra Modi. “I have petitioned Modiji seeking justice and help for me and also urging him to get this practice abolished so that no other girl suffers like me.”
Hina Fatima and Mehreen Noor
The two Hyderabad women received WhatsApp messages one fine day from their US-based husbands , Sayed Faiyazuddin Hussain and Mohammad Abdul (both siblings) respectively, saying talaq thrice. Later both girls received divorce documents by post.