by Nilofar Suhrawardy 27 July 2019
Give a thought, if a husband is declared a criminal by his wife and sent to prison on account of his having tried divorcing her by pronouncing talaq thrice in one sitting, what would he do? Talaq means divorce. The much-debated about controversial Triple Talaq Bill lacks clarity on this and several other issues. Prior to it being pronounced as an Act, it would be appropriate if these issues are seriously looked into. Amid heated debate, this bill was passed recently in Lower House of the Indian Parliament. Notwithstanding the noise being made about this bill’s key aim is to empower Muslim women, prospects of it actually having this impact may be viewed as practically non-existent.
Prior to elaborating further on this fact, it may be pointed that hype has been created as if each and every Indian Muslim woman is facing the trauma of being divorced instantly by husband’s pronouncement of talaq thrice in one sitting. Clearly, a greater attempt has been made to politicize this issue than actually taking the needed steps to strengthen Muslim women. The respected leaders’ stand would bear greater significance if they also come out with statistics regarding how many triple-talaq cases have really taken place over the past few years.
It would not be a bad idea if these leaders make a rudimentary survey of Muslims associated with their government as well as party and learn how many of them have faced/used the triple-talaq in their marriages. The concerned leaders should also pay some attention to whether the noise being made over triple-talaq is hype or do statistics really support it as a serious problem for Muslim women. Also, some importance should be paid to it becoming a necessity from the angle of women trapped in bad marriages. In these cases, rather than remain married, they may prefer going for divorce at the earliest possible. Besides, Muslims do have a point regarding their constitutional right to freedom of religion. The Muslims may view politicians’ stand on “triple talaq” as being deliberately expressed primarily because of their anti-Muslim attitude than their concern for the welfare of the Muslim community, particularly the ladies.
In this situation, prior to raising the issue of triple talaq, the concerned politicians should have read the Quran (its translation is available in Hindi and English as well as other languages). They could have then with substantial authority pointed to limitations laid in Quran regarding divorce. Islam refers to divorce only as of the last alternative, that is a step opted for if all prospects of saving marriage are ruled out. But, this step does not appear to have been taken by so-called leaders “concerned” about Muslim women. No attempt has apparently been made to understand the religious principles of Islam regarding talaq and also the degree to which Muslim women are affected by it. And this fact may be viewed as a hard reality, a pointer to their tendency of repeatedly targeting the Muslim community’s religious beliefs without making even an attempt first to understand its basic principles.
Religious and also legal validity of marriage among Muslims rests on Nikahnama, which requires signatures of the bride, bridegroom, and two witnesses. Nikahnama is a marriage contract which lays down certain terms and conditions, including the “mahr” agreed upon. The mahr is the money that the wife is legally entitled to ask for. If the marriage ends, the husband is bound to give her the mahr totally. Greater importance should be given to including the point opposing triple talaq in one sitting in the Nikahnama. It would be perhaps more sensible of politicians speaking against triple talaq to take steps towards popularizing this point in the Nikahnama. Also, importance should be given to including points in Nikahnama, which cannot be viewed as contradicting any religious practice but would prove helpful to women in distress.
Unfortunately, the triple-talaq bill lacks clarity on quite a few crucial issues. The bill criminalizes triple talaq, that is the controversial issue of a husband divorcing his wife by pronouncing talaq thrice instantly. Though supporters of this bill claim it is in support of Muslim women, they have not given consideration to its negative aspects. One of these is the imprisonment of males who indulge in this practice. There is no clarity on whether man and woman facing this situation would be recognized as married or as divorced. If they are recognized as married, on being sent to prison on the basis of charges filed by his wife, in all probability the husband would prefer pronouncing talaq thrice at required intervals than remaining married to her. Now, would most Muslim women opt for this situation, that of being divorced the “legal” way after their not accepting the triple talaq? Also, as has been pointed by opponents, in what manner is the imprisoned male expected to support his family members from behind bars, including the “wife” and his children, if he has any?
Little attention has been paid to situations where Muslim women may prefer opting for triple talaq with a minimal time period in between three pronunciations. It is possible that upon getting married, a woman may learn certain hard realities about her husband; she and her family members weren’t probably aware of earlier. He may already be married and/or maybe involved with some other woman. He may be suffering from a disease which was hidden from the woman and her family members. Economically and professionally, his stature may not at all be what was projected to them. Educationally, he may not be as qualified as he had claimed to be. He may be woman-abuser and so forth. There can be innumerable be such reasons which may not be considered appropriate by the woman to remain married and/or even be involved in any relationship with him. In these circumstances, any normal woman may be expected to walk out of the marriage than remain married to the person, with whom there is no question of her remaining bound to for life.
Strangely, the triple talaq bill has not taken note of various aspects linked with Muslim marriages. If the bill, as claimed, is in the interest of empowerment of Muslim women, it would be appropriate if each and every aspect of Muslim marriages are taken note of, particularly Nikahnama, Maher and circumstances in which the wife may prefer being divorced, even if it demands facing triple talaq. In India, torment facing married women in general because of abuse, dowry demand, divorce, and numerous other reasons is not confined to Muslim women alone. Islam does not permit dowry. But its practice among Muslims is on the rise. Islam does not allow abuse of women nor is it in favor of males marrying the second, third, or fourth time, without permission from the first wife. It also lays out that all wives must be treated equally. Yes, there are cases of non-Muslims choosing to become Muslims for the sake of second marriages. This demands that Nikahnama should include a point specifically disallowing second marriages, without written permission from the first wife and make the husband bound to take care of her needs as well as children out of that marriage.
Rather than make noise only about “triple talaq,” it would be more sensible for respected leaders to talk about a marriage contract, with clauses against practices which lead to abuse of women. The contract should lay out categorically, with the consent of the bride, bridegroom, and witnesses, that saying talaq thrice in one sitting would not lead to the dissolution of the marriage. Also, it would be more appropriate if the contract includes conditions, including that of the husband not being permitted to pronounce triple talaq in a fit of anger, under the drunken stage or any similar state. It may be noted, Islam does not recognize the pronouncement of talaq in these circumstances. Also, greater emphasis is laid on talaq being pronounced thrice with an interval of time-period between the three pronunciations. Herein lays the importance of Nikahnama. The contract should include a clause that if wife wills, the husband may be permitted to pronounce triple-talaq with the time period in between decided by the wife. Secondly, prior to taking any legal action against the husband, the arrangement should be made for him to give her Maher agreed upon at the time of marriage and also gifts she brought with her.
It would also be more practical of leaders not to confine their concern only to Muslim women. They should also consider a marriage contract for women of all religions with strict strictures against the practice of dowry. Considering the noise being about a Uniform Civil Code, a beginning can be made by proposing a marriage contract binding on religions, with clauses banning dowry, changing religion for second marriages, instant divorces, abuse of women and so forth. They should do so to prove that they are not raising the issue of “triple talaq” only for political reasons.