As part of its campaign against triple talaq, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has been circulating short personal stories of women on social media in a series titled “3 Seconds Divorce”. One story is posted for every day of the month of Ramzan to remind religious members of the Muslim community of the need to ban instant triple talaq to secure the dignity of the affected women.
Among the eight women whose stories have been posted so far, the first is from Mumbai, the next four are from Tamil Nadu, one is from Rajasthan and the last from Maharashtra.
Most of the women were married young. Their literacy levels are not known but the fact that they have little earning skills is apparent. These hard-hitting narratives of these women rooted in their socio-economic context of poverty and destitution are authenticated with photographs and names. They end with a one-point agenda in support of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan campaign – ban triple talaq.
Address wider concerns too
I find the rigour and singular focus with which the andolan has pursued its cause and gained public support both from the media and progressive Muslims commendable.
But my point of discomfort is that while the narratives provide a socio-economic context of the women’s lives, and suggest that these are the root cause of their misery, there is a disconnect.
There seems to be no effort to address these wider concerns. The women do not seek any other mechanism for redressing the acute domestic violence, economic deprivation, desertion, extra-marital affairs of their husbands. All they desire is a ban on triple talaq, as if it is a magic wand that will end the multiple issues that are causing misery in their lives.
These women are entitled to legal remedies and protections within their marriage and upon divorce. However in these stories, and throughout its campaign, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has consistently ignored this. The framing of these stories makes me wonder if this is a deliberate manipulation of these women’s personal miseries to suit the agenda of the andolan.
I find the first story of Mumbai-based Rubina Sheikh, 32, most tragic. As her husband had deserted her, she wanted maintenance. She approached the Andolan’s Aurat ki Shariah Adalat, or women’s court, in 2015. She did not approach the family court in Mumbai or the magistrate’s court to secure her right to maintenance.
In her own words:
“[The] adalat called him for reconciliation. While negotiations were still going on, he orally pronounced talaq three times and walked off. The adalat did not accept the divorce and pressurised him to pay maintenance. My husband said he had divorced me because he did not want to stay with me and wanted to marry another woman. He remarried after giving divorce to me.”
No legal standing
Here the use of the word adalat itself is a manipulation. Anyone reading it may think it is a formal court or at least a recognised sharia court or a qazi court – which also does not have the power of a civil court but there is an acceptance of these courts within the Muslim community – but this is neither.
It is an NGO devoid of any power or authority to enforce its orders, yet the name Aurat ki Shariah Adalat conveys the impression that it is a formal sharia court, vested with authority. The adalat is similar to thousands of counselling centres run by NGOs, which offer “counselling and reconciliation” either in their own offices or in police stations. But rather unfortunately, Islamic scholars such as Zeenat Shoukat Ali seem to endorse this illegal practice.
If the woman wanted maintenance all she needed to do was to file an application in the magistrate’s court under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, or the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, and secure orders which are enforceable.
The story also shatters two more myths which the andolan propagates – of Muslim polygamy and that a Muslim woman has no rights after talaq.
Sheikh states that her husband gives her Rs 5,000 a month as maintenance but he is in a position to give more as he is working in Qatar and her children are studying in an English medium school. The so-called adalat is still negotiating with him to increase her maintenance. This refutes the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan claim that after pronouncing talaq the woman is not entitled to any maintenance from her husband. So I fail to understand whether Sheikh’s need is to a higher amount of maintenance, or a ban on triple talaq. Secondly, remarriage after divorce is not polygamy.
In these stories, one can identify the socio-economic barriers that are faced by women in broken marriages across communities.
Why only triple talaq?
The question then is: what has the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan done to spread awareness among Muslim women for self reliance through skill training, job opportunities or avenues of private entrepreneurship so that they have something to fall back on if the dreaded sword of triple talaq falls on them?
One can argue that this is not the Andolan’s core activity and they are a rights-based or a campaign-based group. So then why did none of the women, with the Andolan’s help, challenge the un-Islamic triple talaq in a court of law, and secure their rights of maintenance and residence under the Domestic Violence Act?
It is indeed sad that to score a point on triple talaq, the andolan deliberately does not refer cases to Majlis – where we deal with thousands of women, both Hindu and Muslim, facing similar problems – or to any other women’s rights lawyer in the vicinity, but decides put out the negative story to score a point.
Our office is situated just about three bus stops away from the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan office and we have addressed many meetings organised by the andolan and also provided legal support to the women who approach that organisation. But now, the andolan does not refer Muslim women in need of legal interventions to Majlis, and instead decides the cases in the Aurat ki Shariah Adalat, set up by them, even if it ends in the denial of crucial rights to the concerned woman.
Would this not amount to the deliberate manipulation of a woman’s misery to create a negative story?
Flavia Agnes is the co-founder of Majlis, a forum for women's rights discourse and legal initiatives.