According to Scharia, indian muslim women can be divorced just by the husband saying „Talaq“, meaning Divorce, thrice.

IM FOKUS Indian women, like women in most parts of the world, are struggling to claim their rights. Despite of being half the humanity, they are denied the most basic of human rights. In a vast country like India, there exist many discriminatory, anti-woman laws which have been institutionalized and subsequently internalized. These begin with exploitation through social norms and institutions. The issue discussed here is divorce among Muslim women in India, which may even seem as hilarious to some.

In 1978, India witnessed a landmark legal case, where the fate of the Muslim woman was thrown around like a hot bun in the hands of the government which fell prey to appeasing the religious Muslim clerics to retain its vote bank. This was the case of Shah Bano, a sixty year old Muslim woman, who filed a case in the Supreme Court Of India asking her husband to provide a minimum alimony of ₹500 ( around seven euros) for herself and her five children after being divorced. That is when the issue of Muslim women rights found place in the mainstream narrative, and the political leaders had to wake up and smell the coffee. At the one hand, the Muslim clerics argued that she didn’t have any right to the alimony under Sharia, or Islamic law, but for the rest of the country with a basic sense of the cruel and expensive life of a divorcee woman in a biased society, this seemed to be the bare minimum she was asking for. Dramatic as the case may have been, eventually Shah Bano died receiving no financial help from her husband. The ruling government with Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister failed miserably in the following elections.

Ironically, the biggest feminist revolution in the history of mankind has been Islam, yet Muslim women remain to be one of the most backward communities in India

In Islam, marriage is a contract where both the consenting adults have to adhere to some rules and regulations, terms and conditions. Marriage is not depicted as a “bond made in heaven” or burdened with ideas of reincarnation. Although it insists upon the subsistence of a marriage and prescribes that breach of marriage contract should be avoided, Divorce is not prohibited. Both the parties have rights and duties, and both the man and woman have the right to seek divorce. Ironically, the biggest feminist revolution in the history of mankind has been Islam, yet Muslim women remain to be one of the most backward communities in India.

Under the current “legal” scenario, a man can divorce his wife, just by saying “Talaq” meaning “divorce”, thrice

The issue of divorce within the Muslim community gained attention again when the “Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan”( Indian Muslim Women Movement) wrote to the current prime minister to scrap the triple divorce legality under Muslim Personal Law Board and declare this and polygamy as illegal. The Modi government eventually said it wants to replace many Islamic personal laws with a new uniform civil code applicable to all religious groups, as the article 44 of the Constitution of India. This proposal has met stiff opposition from Muslim groups, who argue that it would discriminate against them. Under the current “legal” scenario, a man can divorce his wife, just by saying “Talaq” meaning “divorce”, thrice. The Muslims believe that though this form of divorce is sinful and innovative, it is nevertheless valid and divorce will take place. According to the prevalent common sense, when triple divorce is pronounced, the wife will become totally alienated from the husband and he cannot remarry her. Interestingly, At least 22 Muslim-majority countries, including neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco have long ago banned the draconian law. In some European countries – for example Germany – Muslims have to adhere by the German national laws and legislation only.

These laws of marriage and divorce are legal under the special “All India Muslim Personal Law Board”, which allows Muslims to continue with their religion specific modalities in all spheres of life. There have been various women who have got divorced just by receiving hand written letters of three words scribbled over a piece of paper, by receiving speed post and even over phone calls . These women call the practice of oral divorce arbitrary, misogynist and unconstitutional. This just an archaic, unscientific and non-democratic practice molded and twisted by religious clerical patriarchs to maintain their hegemony and superior position in the society to crush the rights of women.

People say that Islam was the first institution in the history to grant women the right to divorce a man. The practice of “Triple Talaq” betrays the egalitarian base of the religion

Adding insult to injury, there is a prevalent practice called “Halala”. Under this practise, if a man and woman who think that they had taken a hasty decision or uttered the three words by mistake and want to reverse their decision, they can only do so, if the woman marries another man. That essentially means that the woman needs to establish sexual relationship with another man at least once, and then divorce him as an obligatory step to reunite with her husband again. In some parts of the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, there are discreet “Halala centres” run by so called religious clerics where they offer paid “services” for being one night husbands.

People say that Islam was the first institution in the history to grant women the right to divorce a man, called (khula). The practice of “Triple Talaq” betrays the egalitarian base of the religion. Instead these laws are being used to exploit women. Often men demand great sums of money from their wife threatening to utter the word thrice if they don’t comply. There have been a wide number of domestic violence cases where women have gone through horrible violence. Most of the women are neither financially independent nor they are educated enough to be self-reliable and are too scared to manage on their own if divorced by their husbands.

Muslims just find themselves as grim sentinels of sexism not because of Islam; but despite of it

So, how many more Shah Banos is India waiting for? How long will women continue to be mere puppets handled by the wire of politics at one hand, and the wire of religion in another? Any reform in these laws made under the intrinsically progressive and liberal values of democracy and secularism is resisted by Muslim clerics on two grounds:

Firstly, absolute fear to lose their ground to women who know and exercise their rights, and secondly- as a protectionist measure against the right wing Modi government who is rather expressive in its antagonism towards Muslims. So what we see is dramatic and tearjerking social media campaigns by the religious conservatives who deem any mention of dissolving the legality of triple Talaq as a direct blow to their religious existence in an already polarized country. In the garb of conflated religious ideas, laws which treat humans as subhumans are being happily implemented. The bone of contention here, interestingly enough, is to maintain the sanctity of religious texts. Are these texts only for men? Having a look at the Quran, the Verses number 229-232 of the Chapter Baqarah discuss divorce.

„Divorce (is permissible) only twice, then either maintain [them] in honour or let [them] go in kindness. And it is not lawful for you to take anything of what you have given them, unless both fear that they cannot keep [themselves] within Allah’s bounds; and if you fear that they cannot keep [themselves] within Allah’s bounds, it is no sin on either of them about what she gives up to get herself freed [from the wedlock]. Those are Allah’s limits; so do not transgress them. And, whoever transgresses Allah’s limits -then these are they that are the [willful] wrongdoers.“

This verse came into existence when men used to harass their wives by continuously divorcing them, and retracting their decision at their own will. So, The Quran says that this kind of divorce (revocable divorce), of course, should be accomplished in different meetings, not in one session alone. Then, the Quran adds that in each of these two meetings the husband should either keep his wife honourably with him and make peace with her, or kindly let her go and separate with her forever.

How long will women continue to be mere puppets handled by the wire of politics at one hand, and the wire of religion in another?

On the contradictory, a man divorcing his wife without assigning any reason, literally at his whim, even in a jest or in a state of intoxication, and without recourse to the court, and even in the absence of the wife, is recognized in modern India.

If Islam could be so gender sensitive 1400 years ago, yet the Muslim women are being exploited merely by the fact that they are Muslims, there has to be an error somewhere in practice. Maybe a blunder. And this blunder is failure to do away with bigoted misogyny and uncompromising orthodoxy. The Muslims have forgotten the times where the Prophet emphasised to respect and value women’s rights in his last sermon. Muslims just find themselves as grim sentinels of sexism not because of Islam; but despite of it. The relentless stubbornness to retain this absurd law exposes an insensitive attitude and an abject lack of sense of justice, especially on the part of Muslim leadership, most of whom happen to be men. Under the fold of democracy, they had the full opportunity, encouragement and even appreciation to formulate and implement egalitarian laws in favor of men, but seemingly a conscious effort was made to let the laws remain retrograde. This interplay of communal politics, rigid bigoted mentalities, and the hypocrisy of harassing women in the name of religion, continue to fan the flames of injustice which is burning Muslim women.

Ignoring larger questions of basic health and hygiene, education and mobility – Muslim women are still crusading to fight against oral divorce because what are sheer violation of human rights and internecine conflicts of Hindu – Muslim politics are reduced by the religious priestly class as an attack on their holy scriptures.

TEXT Saman Khan

Saman Khan was born in Calcutta and studied Spanish, literature and culture at the JNU New Delhi and UCC Cork, Ireland. She is also an avid lover of poetry.

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