Over the past few days, my newsfeed has been flooded with articles and posts on the Triple Talaq bill, mostly criticising it and calling it anti-Muslim, that is being pushed to excessively punish Muslim men. As an Islamic feminist with no political affiliation or allegiance, and having witnessed and documented hundreds of cases of instant divorce, it worries me to see how so many of us are letting down a decade long struggle, only because it is about to reach its organic conclusion at a time when a right-wing government is in power.
I surely have plenty of issues with the present government, but trying to pass the amended bill is not one of them. Taking issue with them for the bill is giving them credit for a cause which was never theirs, and for a struggle which they neither initiated nor helped sustain. The struggle to end the un-Islamic practice of Triple Talaq belonged solely to women, mostly Muslim women, and by giving the BJP undue credit, we are letting them appropriate our cause.
I was aghast at feminists, liberals and many women’s rights activists sharing Asaduddin Owaisi's clip from the debate on Triple Talaq in the Lok Sabha. He stood there saying that he is representing the voices of all Muslim women, “a hundred percent of whom reject this bill.” I wondered then, who are those Muslim women who fasted for a day and prayed at the end of it, so that this bill could be passed? I was reminded of Afreen, one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment last year in August, and how ecstatic she was on knowing that the bill has been cleared by the Lok Sabha.
In his regressive speech, hailed by so many because he invoked Bentham and Montesquieu, Owaisi made comparisons between Section 377 and it being decriminalised; he said, “Homosexuality has been decriminalised and you are criminalising Triple Talaq,” almost to imply that the former should not have been done. And yet we share this speech on our social media handles? His homophobic speech said that the government has no problem with what two men do or two women do in their personal lives, but it wants to criminalise Triple Talaq because it will be used against ‘us’. No, Mr Owaisi, those who will be affected by the criminalisation will be only those Muslim men who pronounce instant Triple Talaq upon their wives, which is still largely socially acceptable despite the SC judgement. Not all Muslim men, unless you believe that all Muslim men intend to, or at some point will, use this un-Islamic right, in which case it is only rational to introduce some sort of a law to cause a deterrent to it.
As for the other speeches being made and hailed about how the Quran has some of the best provisions for divorce, as a practising Muslim woman I know of these provisions, and as a part of the community, also understand and have seen how these are almost always not followed in the reality of our patriarchal society.
Badar Sayeed, Lawyer, former MLA and Chairperson of Tamil Nadu Wakf Board, says, “Women of this country are unstoppable. This is not 1986, this is 2019. I have met many women who do not take injustice lying down, and want their husbands to be punished if they have been on the receiving end of this injustice. It is a shame that they are being let down because the ‘wrong’ party is passing the bill. Sure, challenge the provisions of this bill later, but let it be passed.” This is her message: “Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? The women of this country are unstoppable and we will continue marching forward.”
A basic understanding of both the concepts of abandonment and instant divorce reveal that abandonment does not amount to termination of marriage, and the wife continues to have legal rights over the matrimonial home. Abandonment does not have religious sanction, unlike Triple Talaq, which till date is accepted by religious clerics as Islamic. In many instance, they have declare the wife ‘Haraam’ or forbidden, even after the SC judgement, because there is no deterrent in the form of a law to punish husbands who reach out to them after pronouncing it fearlessly.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has received 45 cases of Instant Triple Talaq in different states since the judgment last year. Some may make calculations and say that it affects 0.000001% of Muslim women, but for me, if it affects even a smaller number, it needs to be addressed, because it is affecting a section of the community which is most marginalised.
“The tenure of the jail term can be discussed, but everybody must accept the importance of deterrence without which this law is meaningless,” says Zakia Soman, Co founder of the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan which has been pushing for the passing of the amended bill, and has been on the forefront of demanding a comprehensive codification of Muslim Family law. I am in hundred percent in agreement that there should be a discussion on a law against abandonment of wives as well, across religions, as is being suggested by many currently. Why put one against the other?
Women from marginalised communities are almost always sacrificial lambs at the altar of the ‘larger cause’ and this needs to stop. The fact that the Muslim community is facing a fascist government, and hate crimes, and beef lynchings are increasing, cannot be taken as an argument for Muslim women to continue to suffer an age old un-Islamic practice. The ‘larger cause’ reasoning is one of the factors that has kept many Muslim and Dalit women out of the #MeToo movement as well, especially when the perpetrators are from the same community. My ex colleague, who faced sexual harassment at the hands of her manager – who belonged to the Dalit community, like her – tells me that she did not speak about her case openly earlier because there were many, both from within and outside the community, who instead of supporting her doubted her intentions and asked her to ‘fight the bigger enemy instead.’ Her experience and suffering therefore being reduced to a 0.00001 something percentage.
I am unable to understand how criminalising instant Triple Talaq is a ploy to put all Muslim men behind bars. Firstly, the amended text of the law states that the FIR can only be filed by the wife or her blood relatives, if the husband orally divorces her. Are we then saying that she will misuse the law to put her husband behind bars? Has this not been the argument used by MRAs to object to 498A and other progressive laws which provide some sort of protection to women?
Secondly, the law has scope for reconciliation. To say that the sole motive of the law is to use Muslim women against Muslim men, therefore is to assume that the only motive of Muslim wives is to put their husbands behind bars.
Anyone who has actually worked with Muslim women will know how far fetched a figment of the imagination that is.
Mariya Salim is a women’s rights activist and researcher. She is also Member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. Views expressed are the author’s own.