The triple talaq issue has been dominating our national discourse for more than a year now. These days, we are seeing several Muslim women come on TV and express their opposition and resentment over this cruel practice. Let us understand this issue in brief before we go forward in this article.
What is the Triple Talaq Issue?
In simple terms, uttering the word, ‘talaq’ thrice by a husband means instant divorce from his wife. The meaning of this word is ‘divorce’ and this practice has been often misused by angry and short tempered husbands. Divorcing wives in this manner is not just barbaric but also depriving the women of their human rights.
In the past, very few political commentators used to debate the triple talaq issue. The problem of social injustice was like an elephant in the room.
From 2014 onwards, there have been several voices in the Muslim community seeking for reforms within. A few years back, a Muslim woman approached the Supreme Court asking for annulling the practice of triple talaq. The Court has asked the Union Government for its opinion on declaring this practice as violative of Constitution. The Government has told the Supreme Court that it finds this practice decadent and against the human rights.
Closely related to the triple talaq issue is the sordid practice of halala.
If in a fit of anger, a husband divorces his wife by uttering ‘talaq’ thrice, the only way she can go back to him by invoking the practice of halala. This means that the divorced woman must marry another man and this marriage needs to be consummated. After consummation, the new husband should divorce her before the once divorced wife can go back to her previous husband.
If her new husband is unwilling to divorce her, then she must wait for his death before her lawful union with her first husband. Isn’t this custom weird?
Shah Bano Case
In 1985, Shah Bano, a divorced Muslim woman approached the Supreme Court praying for maintenance from her husband. The Court ruled in her favor but the then Government enacted a law which went against this judgment. According to the new law, a divorced Muslim woman can ask for alimony from her husband only during the Iddat period. The new law actually diluted the right to alimony of a divorced Muslim woman and was enacted under the pressure of the Muslim vote bank of the ruling party.
The Supreme Court set aside the new law, termed it invalid and restored the right to alimony of a divorced Muslim woman.
The triple talaq issue and the Shah Bano case highlight the precarious condition of Muslim women. Unlike their counterparts in other religions, Muslim women have little or no rights and privileges. While the rest of the society is progressing in areas of employment and education, Muslim women are still lagging behind.
Sense of Desperation!!
A sense of desperation has crept in Muslim women and this is showing up in several debates on television channels about their state in the Muslim and Indian societies.
Till a few years back, it was unthinkable to see purdah-clad Muslim women come out in the open and discuss freely their immediate issues. Not anymore. They are saying today that ‘we too want to enjoy the fruits of freedom that women of other religions are enjoying’.
Political observers sense that there are signs of distinct change in our society. For example, in the recent elections to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, there was a high turnout of voters. The vote percentage was 60 % and is high by Indian standards. In many areas, one saw many Muslim women flashing their voter identification cards and waiting in the queue to cast their votes.
Initially, many observers felt that the Muslim women voted the Samajwadi Party or the BSP in these elections. Historically, these parties have pandered to the demands of the orthodox Muslims and the BJP is perceived to be anti-Muslim. However, the BJP scored a stunning victory in this election and this has led to a reassessment of Indian politics.
Perhaps, the Muslim women voted the Bhartiya Janata Party, which has supported their causes for a long time. However, we can not be certain because the Election Commission does not identify voters on the basis of their religion. But since the BJP won even from Muslim-dominated constituencies, there is a strong reason to suspect that many Muslim women have voted the party this time.
Time for a new vote bank?
I think it is too early for a new vote bank, comprising Muslim women, to form. It will take some time for this group to form. Right now, this political grouping is amorphous and leaderless. There is no national leader on the horizon who can give a clear cut direction to Muslim women aspiring for change. There are a few women like Shazia Ilmi who are quite vocal about Muslim women’s issues but they are limited to Delhi. Muslim women need a national leader who can give them a sense of identity.
Narendra Modi as leader of Muslim women?
It is possible that Mr. Modi might be seen by many Muslim women as their leader. The Indian Prime Minister has a broad appeal and has always supported the Muslim ladies on the triple talaq issue. His government has told the Supreme Court in no uncertain terms that triple talaq needs to go. Many Muslim women have openly supported him and his government, unlike their male relatives.
Thanks to the progressive agenda followed by the government, there is a new sense of hope in the country. While the mainstream of the society is progressing on the fronts of education and employment, Muslims have still to catch up. As per the latest census, Muslim women are lagging in the fields of education and employment. Since a large number of them are dependent on their husbands, the evil practice of triple talaq is like a sword on their necks. This burden needs to go if Muslim women want to join the national mainstream. Many political observers believe that there is a golden opportunity for the Muslim women to unite together and form a voting block.