How Muslim men are finding a way around triple talaq ban
In August 2017, the Supreme Court declared talaq-e-biddat (instant or triple talaq) illegal and in July 2019, Parliament passed a law making it an offence punishable by three years of imprisonment. But three years later, Muslim men have found ways to get around the law by resorting to other unilateral ways of divorce or simply deserting their wives.
The result is that these women end up with no conjugal rights or economic and social support while also forgoing the right to maintenance and shared guardianship of children that they would be entitled to in case of a divorce. Another method is coercing their wives into giving them khula (divorce granted on the woman’s initiative) to avoid trouble with the law.
A few months after triple talaq was made void, Mumbai-based Nazreen Nisha got married and it seemed as if all her dreams had come true. Her to-be husband was a well-established businessman in Nashik and the in-laws made much fuss over not wanting any dowry. For 26-year-old Nazreen, it was a relief as her family were of modest means. But within days of the marriage, trouble started brewing.
“We did not meet their expectations despite the fact that my parents spent as much as they could on the ceremony and gifts,” she says.
In June 2020, Nazreen fell sick and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Her in-laws asked Nazreen’s parents to take her back for treatment. “They feared that I would infect them. My husband didn’t protest so I went to my parents’ home for treatment,” she says.
That was the last time the couple was together in the same house. Over the next year and a half, Nazreen and her family kept making overtures towards her in-laws through phone and visits to Nashik but nothing seemed to work.
In July this year, she received a WhatsApp message from her husband pronouncing talaq twice.
“We never even had a fight,” she says, shocked at this turn of events. While the husband claims that he has given Nazreen talaq under the talaq-e-hasan procedure (that entails giving talaq over a period of three months), she says the procedure has not been followed.
Nazreen recently filed a public interest litigation in the SC seeking a ban on all forms of unilateral divorce in Islam. The case is likely to be heard next week.
Like her, 34-year-old Benazir Heena too challenged her divorce through the talaq-e-hasan method and the matter went to the apex court. The TV journalist had fought with her family to get married to her lawyer husband in December 2020 only to find herself driven out of her marital home within months.
“There was no communication from my husband or in-laws and in April this year I received a notice of talaq,” she says. In May and June, she received two more notices of divorce. “I do not accept this kind of divorce where I have not even been heard. I complained to religious and community leaders, went to the police but no one is willing to support me,” she says.
The lack of pressure from religious leaders and community elders has also weakened the case for women. Since the law is governed by sharia courts, both Nazreen and Benazir sought the help of community leaders but have not received any support.
Similarly, Raipur’s Nahid Parveen, a maths and Urdu teacher, approached community leaders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the police and the state women’s commission to seek a reconciliation with her husband but has met no success.
An indication of the scale of the desertion problem is evident from a recent survey in Hyderabad by the Shaheen Women’s Resource and Welfare Association. In July-August 2019, of the 579 households surveyed there were four cases of women who had been deserted by their husbands. In 2022, the number has shot up to 236 cases for 800 households surveyed.
Shaheen founder Jameela Nishat says that cases of desertion have increased dramatically. “Desertions mean that the woman continues to be married and is denied maintenance and freedom that she would have got otherwise. Most women want to continue in their marriage. In cases where the woman initiates the khula method of divorce, we have seen that it is the husband who has coerced her to file it,” she says.
Thirty three-year-old Sultana Qureshi’s world turned upside down when her husband of 15 years upped and left to marry another woman earlier this year. She is now left with an ailing mother and a six-year-old daughter to take care of. “He threatens to throw me out of the house too,” she says.
Sultana was offered Rs 2 lakh by her husband to initiate a khula form of divorce but she refused. She even tried to convince him through counselling sessions at the Shaheen centre in Hyderabad but to no avail.
Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan founder Zakia Soman says that piecemeal change cannot make a difference in empowering Muslim women. “We need a codified Muslim family law that will include laws related to marriage, divorce, succession, guardianship and inheritance just as has been done for Hindu women. Muslim women should also get constitutional rights,” she says.
Earlier this month, the SC observed in Benazir’s case that talaq-e-hasan is “not so improper” as both Muslim men and women have access to unilateral forms of divorce. But women like Benazir, Nazreen and Nahid argue that cases of women seeking divorce are rare while men have been using personal laws to suit their interests.
Benazir wants to go ahead with the legal challenge. “My life has been destroyed. But I want to ensure that there are no more Benazirs in the future,” she says.