Barely two hours after her marriage was solemnised on the night of August 15, Ruby Khan found herself at the receiving end of triple talaq. The 24-year-old from Agra in Uttar Pradesh had been engaged to a man named Nadeem for a year and had been assured that his family had no expectations of dowry. But after her nikah, during the wedding reception, Nadeem’s family suddenly demanded a car as dowry.
“When we refused, his family told him to give me teen talaq and he just left me,” a tearful Khan told Scroll.in over the phone. “I had read about such stuff in the news, but I never thought it could happen to me.”
The next day, Khan gathered herself, went to a nearby police station and filed a case against Nadeem under the triple talaq law passed by Indian Parliament on July 31.
Under the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, pronouncing triple talaq or instantaneous divorce on a Muslim woman is a cognizable offence – the police can arrest the man without a warrant. It is punishable with up to three years in prison along with a fine. Charges can be filed by the aggrieved woman or any of her blood relatives, and the accused husband can be granted bail only after his wife is consulted about it.
When the law was passed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described it as a “correction” of a “historical wrong” done to Muslim women. Many women’s rights groups, however, opposed the law, accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party government of appropriating Muslim women’s concerns for its political motives. They also expressed the fear that imprisoning Muslim husbands for triple talaq could harm the economic and social security of Muslim women and their children, many of whom have no financial support systems to help them.
Despite this opposition, the law has been unmistakably popular in the month since it came into effect. Muslim women across the country have been filing cases against their husbands, with headlines reporting dozens of cases filed in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Kerala, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and several other states.
Many of the complainants have been aided by local politicians or organisations such as the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which has been at the forefront of the movement against triple talaq. However, other women have chosen to take on their husbands on their own, after hearing about the new law in the news.
Scroll.in spoke to three Muslim women who have filed triple talaq cases against their husbands. They come from diverse financial and educational backgrounds. While one saw the law as an opportunity to seek justice for infidelity and mistreatment, others used it to bolster their cases of dowry harassment. What the women had in common, however, was a strong desire to see their husbands punished in the strongest way possible.
‘I never thought it could happen to me’
Ruby Khan grew up in Agra’s Hari Parvat neighbourhood with five sisters, a brother and a single mother who runs a small grocery shop. She studied up to Class 10 and at the age of 21, accepted a marriage proposal from Nadeem that came through an acquaintance. Her fiance’s family was from Dholpur in Rajasthan, but Nadeem would frequently travel to Agra to work in his uncle’s factory.
“It was a strange engagement,” said Khan. “His family never accepted our invitations to visit us. And he does not have a phone, so I must have spoken to him just four or five times in one year. Who doesn’t keep a phone in this day and age?” Khan also found it odd that Nadeem rarely tried to meet her during his Agra visits, and made no effort to court her with small gifts. “These days men are so fast, but he did not even give me a single toffee.”
Despite her apprehensions, Khan did not reconsider marrying Nadeem on August 15. “Every woman is supposed to marry, isn’t it?” she said.
At the wedding reception, when Khan’s family presented her in-laws with a variety of gifts, Nadeem’s family began making aggressive demands for a car. “We were so shocked. We tried offering them other things that we can afford, but they wanted a car and nothing else,” said Khan.
Finally, Nadeem pronounced triple talaq and his family began to leave, taking all the gifts with them. When Khan’s relatives tried to stop them, she claims they grew violent. “They used all kinds of abusive language and my brother-in-law actually hit my cousin,” said Khan. “We know that ladki walon ko jhukna padta hai [the bride’s side has to bow down], but they really dishonoured us.”
On August 16, the Khans filed a case of dowry harassment and triple talaq against Nadeem and his family. Khan, who has repeatedly shared her story with the police and local media, is still reeling from the shock of the instant divorce. “Modi ji has come out with such a good scheme, and still people have no fear of the law,” she said.
In the 10 days since her complaint was lodged, Khan has been frustrated with the lack of police action. “My brother-in-law was detained for less than a day and released. Besides that, the police has not arrested anyone and Nadeem’s family has gone back to Dholpur to lead their lives,” said Khan. “Meanwhile, my family has been ruined here.”
Khan claims she is fed up of being pitied by the neighbourhood as the abandoned bride. “I am not stupid, I don’t want to live with him after all this,” she said. “I just want him to be punished, so that he does not do this to anyone else in the future.”
‘I want him to feel guilty’
Zeenat (name changed on request) was seven months pregnant when her husband told her “I divorce you” three times over a phone call in November 2018. He then repeated the phrase in a Whatsapp message. For Zeenat, this was the final blow from a man who had been mistreating her since their wedding in 2015.
“He already had one wife and a child, but she was handicapped and he told me he was going to divorce her, so I agreed to the marriage,” said Zeenat, who was a 28-year-old widow at the time. The divorce with his first wife never happened. “But it was my second marriage and I did not want it to break, so I indulged him too much.”
Within a year of the marriage, Zeenat’s husband moved to Abu Dhabi for a job at an optician’s shop, while she returned to her parents’ home in Mumbra, a town 30 km north of Mumbai. When he returned from Abu Dhabi in 2017, he began living with Zeenat and her family, taking money and jewellery from her on several occasions but refusing to tell her what he did for a living. “Then I found out he was having an affair with another woman,” said Zeenat.
When she confronted him, he grew verbally abusive, hit her on one occasion and soon began to spend more time away from her. “During this time I got pregnant, and my parents advised me to ignore his affair,” said Zeenat, who began nurturing the hope that her husband would “improve”. Instead, he pronounced triple talaq. “I was so hurt and traumatised that my son was born premature,” she said. “And he did not come for the birth of our child. This hurt the most.”
In December 2018, Zeenat convinced her husband to attend a counselling session by women qazis at the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, where he agreed to begin living with her again. Since their divorce had already been declared Constitutionally invalid by the Supreme Court in August 2017, the agreement was that they would not need to remarry.
“But right after this settlement, he began demanding that I do halala,” said Zeenat, referring to the custom in which a divorced Muslim wife must marry, sleep with, and divorce a second man before re-marrying her first husband. “I refused to do that. His affair was not my fault. So how much should I tolerate in the name of being a woman?”
On August 1, a day after the new law banning triple talaq was passed, Zeenat made a beeline for the Mumbra police station to file a case against her husband. Since the law comes into effect retrospectively from September 2018, her case was registered. “No one advised me to take this step. I decided to do it because I want him to learn a lesson, to feel guilty about what he did.”
Zeenat has not yet decided whether she wants to seek a formal, legal divorce from her husband. “But I definitely don’t want his money. I have an MBA degree and I have been a school teacher before, so I can raise my son myself,” she said. “I just want to see him in jail. But as of now, the police have not even arrested him yet.”
‘They have not even tried to arrest him’
In the small town of Shishgarh in Uttar Pradesh, 22-year-old Akseer Jahan has come to be known as the first woman in Bareilly district to file a triple talaq case against her husband.
The youngest daughter of a stone quarry worker, Akseer Jahan has never been to school and was just 17 when her family married her to a brick kiln contractor in her neighbourhood. She began facing dowry harassment almost immediately, with her in-laws demanding a car from her family. “I got pregnant two months after marriage, and my in-laws would drug me and try to make me abort the baby because they wanted a car first,” she said.
Akseer Jahan faced domestic violence throughout her pregnancy, with her brother-in-law often threatening to kill her in her sleep. When her son was just ten days old, she was beaten and kicked out of the house. Since then, her father has been struggling to make ends meet to support Akseer Jahan, her son and six of her younger siblings. “My husband lives right down the street but he never comes to meet his son and never gives us any money,” she said. “He has nicely married another woman.”
Akseer Jahan filed a dowry harassment case against her husband and his family two years ago, and had been growing increasingly frustrated that the case had not progressed at all – the police had conducted no investigations, she claimed, and had made no arrests either. In the midst of this, on August 4, her husband suddenly accosted her when she was walking with her son on a street. “He tried to grab the child from me, and when I did not let go, he gave me talaq three times and ran away,” she said.
Akseer Jahan was stunned and frightened, but also angry enough to take immediate action. She enlisted the help of two passersby who had witnessed her husband giving her the instant divorce, and approached Nida Khan, a young woman from Bareilly who shot to local fame for her crusade against triple talaq. With Khan’s help, Akseer Jahan filed a case against her husband under the new triple talaq law, seeing it as another opportunity to bring her husband to justice.
Her experience with the police, however, has once again been disillusioning. “It has been three weeks and they have not even tried to arrest my husband – they keep saying that arrests cannot be made under this law,” she said. Meanwhile, her in-laws have given statements to the police denying her allegations.
Even though she is afraid of the repercussions of filing this case, Akseer Jahan has decided she wants a proper divorce and maintenance from her husband. She is also considering filing a case of domestic violence against him and his family. Echoing the exact words of Zeenat from Mumbra, she said, “I just want to see him in jail.”