LOST VOICES RE­CLAIMED

Vic­tims of the medieval di­vorce prac­tice from across In­dia speak about how women—wives, moth­ers and daugh­ters—are cast aside by men us­ing re­li­gion as a so­cial and sex­ual weapon

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - by Kanu Sarda, Ab­hi­jit Mu­lye, Me­lena Thomas, Anand ST Das, Dia Rekhi, Ra­jitha Sanaka, M Raghu­ram, Baib­hav Mishra and Namita Ba­j­pai

Vic­tims of the medieval di­vorce prac­tice Triple Talaq from across In­dia speak about how women — wives, moth­ers and daugh­ters — are cast aside by men us­ing re­li­gion as a so­cial and sex­ual weapon

“There are elab­o­rate pro­ce­dures in Is­lam for sep­a­ra­tion. A SE­NIOR MAULANA EN­DORSED MY VIEWS IN A TV DE­BATE A FEW WEEKS AGO. HE AGREED THAT TALAQ IS NOT IN AC­COR­DANCE WITH IS­LAMIC LAW. WHO MADE PEO­PLE LIKE THE MUFTI CUSTODIANS OF IS­LAM?”

Sadiya Khan, an al­ima whose hus­band di­vorced her via What­sApp

“Babli didn’t run away, but waited to be ar­rested. DUR­ING THE TRIAL IT CAME TO THE FORE THAT SHE WAS NOT MEN­TALLY NOR­MAL. HER MEN­TAL CHECK-UP RE­VEALED SHE HAD A PSY­CHOTIC DIS­OR­DER AND VERY LOW IQ.”

Lawyer for Babli, who was ac­quit­ted of mur­der af­ter her hus­band di­vorced her

Mar­riages are made in heaven is the cliché. Some mar­riages are sim­ply hell. Triple talaq, a per­verse, in­stant form of di­vorce, which en­ables a Mus­lim man to sep­a­rate from his wife by ut­ter­ing the word ‘talaq’ thrice—also through phone, texts, Skype and What­sApp— has been a weapon of gen­der and eco­nomic bru­tal­ity for 1,400 years in Hanafi Is­lam. A bit­terly con­tested po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sue, the ex­i­gen­cies of mi­nor­ity pol­i­tics had been pre­vent­ing suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments from en­act­ing mar­i­tal re­form in Is­lam since politi­cians had deemed it as in­ter­fer­ence in Sharia. Last week, a five-judge Con­sti­tu­tion Bench of the Supreme Court quashed the prac­tice call­ing it “gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tory and vi­o­la­tion of right to equal­ity”, af­ter five women—Sha­yara Bano, Gul­shan Parveen, Ishrat Ja­han, Afreen Rehman and Farha Faiz—had ap­proached the courts for re­lief from the medieval prac­tice. Af­ter the rul­ing, Sha­yara said, “This is a happy mo­ment for all Mus­lim women in In­dia. This is a his­toric day for In­dia.”

Times have in­deed changed. At the height of the de­bate, Mus­lim lead­ers ar­gued that triple talaq is a re­li­gious is­sue, which can­not be ju­di­cially ne­go­ti­ated but most Is­lamic schol­ars held that the prac­tice, though un-Is­lamic, is valid! In 1978, Shah Bano, a mother of five, was granted main­te­nance from her hus­band by the apex court. How­ever, yield­ing to pres­sure from Mus­lim politi­cians, the Congress gov­ern­ment of the day passed the Mus­lim Women Act 1986, which di­luted the rul­ing.

The lat­est rul­ing will be valid un­til the ban be­comes law in Par­lia­ment. Is this a pre­lude to a Uni­form Civil Code? From Shah Bano to Sha­yara Bano, it’s been one long strug­gle for Mus­lim women to stand up and be counted like their sis­ters from all faiths. One they have won.

DELHI

For 35-year-old Ta­nia Sharif, it wasn’t easy to take care of her two grow­ing chil­dren af­ter her hus­band di­vorced her five years ago. The gov­ern­ment school teacher’s or­deal be­gan when she en­rolled her teenage daugh­ter in a public school. Her en­raged hus­band gave her triple talaq while they were hav­ing break­fast. “The mo­ment I told him about our daugh­ter get­ting en­rolled in the school, he scolded me for not tak­ing his con­sent. He wanted her to study in a madrasa, not in a reg­u­lar school,” says Ta­nia.

She filed a case against her hus­band Ab­dul Sharif in a Delhi court seek­ing al­imony and right to liv­ing. “It was a chal­lenge to up­bring my two daugh­ters with­out any fi­nan­cial sup­port. I didn’t lose hope and con­tin­ued teach­ing. I got my daugh­ters en­rolled in my school, which made it eas­ier for me take care of them and con­cen­trate on my ca­reer,” she says. “I had no house, no money. He threw me out. My fam­ily re­fused to sup­port me as for them triple talaq is a ta­boo.”

Ta­nia won the case, with the court grant­ing her cus­tody of Ab­dul’s house, or­der­ing him to live sep­a­rat­ley and give `10,000 monthly main­te­nance to her and the chil­dren.

MA­HA­RASH­TRA

Sadiya Khan, 19, is an ‘al­ima’, one who has read re­li­gious texts thor­oughly. The Pune girl got a rude shock in April 2016 when the mufti told her that the talaq her hus­band had Whats-Apped her was in ac­cor­dance with Is­lam.

A year on, anger has re­placed shock. “How could he do so?” she asks of the mufti’s de­ci­sion. “There are elab­o­rate pro­ce­dures in Is­lam for sep­a­ra­tion. A se­nior maulana en­dorsed my views in a TV de­bate a few weeks ago. He agreed that talaq is not in ac­cor­dance with Is­lamic law. Who made peo­ple like the mufti custodians of Is­lam?”

Sadiya lost her par­ents when she was very young, and was raised by her grand­par­ents. She stud­ied in a madrasa and then com­pleted a three-year course to be­come an ‘al­ima’, af­ter which she was mar­ried off to a man who worked in a call cen­tre. Her fa­ther-in-law was an auto driver and a cook.

“Two days into my marriage they started de­mand­ing dowry. I told them that every­thing was done as per our ca­pac­ity, which led to a quar­rel. They kept re­peat­ing the de­mands,” says Sadiya.

When she got preg­nant, Sadiya went to live with her grand­par­ents. Two days later, her hus­band What­sApped her “talaq, talaq, talaq” and told her not to re­turn with­out dowry. When she con­fronted them in their house, he al­legedly pushed her into the bath­room, hit her and made her drink sham­poo. She was moved to hos­pi­tal in a semi- con­scious state. On com­ing to, she re­alised the phys­i­cal as­sault had led to her abor­tion. Sadiya filed a po­lice com­plaint against her hus­band and in-laws, which is on­go­ing in court.

“It all made me re­alise I was right and had been wronged. That re­placed fear and pity within my­self with the anger,” says Sadiya, who now wants to be­come a lawyer.

KER­ALA

One fine morn­ing, P P Af­sana from Idiyan­gara in Kozhikode re­ceived a mail from her hus­band pro­nounc­ing triple talaq. And with those three words, this 32-year-old was left des­ti­tute.

Af­sana, an MA BEd, got mar­ried in April 2013. She was al­legedly forced by her hus­band and his par­ents to quit her job as a school teacher. She was con­tin­u­ously ha­rassed by her hus­band and his fam­ily mem­bers over her dark com­plex­ion and dowry.

Five months into the marriage, her hus­band sent her home and re­fused to ac­cept her back even af­ter their daugh­ter Amina was born.

“Af­ter not an­swer­ing my calls or mes­sages for a few months, my hus­band in­formed me that he had di­vorced me. I didn’t know what to do. He did not even fol­low the pro­ce­dures men­tioned in the Sharia law,” she added.

On a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence case filed by her, the court is­sued a pro­tec­tion or­der in favour of Af­sana. She staged a sit-in along with her two-year-old child out­side her hus­band’s house seek­ing jus­tice. Af­sana with­drew the case af­ter the two par­ties reached an agree­ment over main­te­nance.

Af­sana stays with her mother and sib­lings. Her hus­band has re­mar­ried.

BI­HAR

Within a year af­ter be­ing mar­ried to Mo­ham­mad Mu­nawwar at the age of 18 in Sa­harsa, il­lit­er­ate Biwi Mariam be­gan get­ting sig­nals that he was un­happy with the marriage. When they had their first child two years later, she thought her marriage would im­prove. She never be­lieved that Mu­nawwar, whom she loved dearly, would give her triple talaq and desert her with their two chil­dren.

“I was dev­as­tated and wanted to com­mit sui­cide. But the thought of my chil­dren’s fu­ture gave me courage,” says Mariam, who lives in a rented sin­gle room. Her son Sayid is seven and her daugh­ter Parveen is 20 months old.

Mariam works as a do­mes­tic help, do­ing dishes in six homes. “I can’t buy milk for my daugh­ter, nor books and clothes for my son. I take care of my old, sick mother. Life is hell for me,” she says. Her fa­ther died six years ago.

Mu­nawwar, a tai­lor, had been pres­sur­ing her par­ents for a mo­tor­cy­cle, `50,000 and a gold chain. “He used to beat me up. Then he found another woman, said talaq to me three times, took every­thing we had and left,” she says.

Mariam shot to the head­lines last month when she in­sisted on meet­ing Union Home Min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh dur­ing his Sa­harsa visit. “I failed to meet him. I wanted to tell him of my strug­gles and urge him to put an end to triple talaq in the coun­try,” says Mariam. “The long prac­tice of men mar­ry­ing at whim, pro­duc­ing chil­dren and leav­ing them must end. I’ll con­vert to Hin­duism un­less triple talaq is banned.”

Af­ter she couldn’t meet the Home Min­is­ter, the lo­cal Mus­lim clergy and her Mus­lim neigh­bours “wanted me to shut up. They threat­ened of dire con­se­quences”. She fears for her and her chil­dren’s lives.

TAMIL NADU

Mehrunissa Bano (name changed) says, “He just said three words—talaq, talaq, talaq—and my life wasn’t the same. It shouldn’t be so easy for him to move on. Can he give me back the time I spent with him? Can he make me the per­son I was be­fore I met him? I only hope and pray now that no other girl goes through this.”

Since child­hood, women have been con­di­tioned to be­lieve in the ‘hap­pily ever af­ter’. Mehrunissa was no dif­fer­ent. When this 21-year-old mar­ried Ash­faq Hus­saini (name changed) in 2008, life seemed full of prom­ise.

“There was a prob­lem with the way my hus­band han­dled the talaq and the way the qazi went about the pro­ce­dure. If th­ese peo­ple fol­lowed what is given in the Sharia law prop­erly, there would have been no is­sue. Triple talaq, when done as per the rules, is not wrong,” says she.

About her abu­sive marriage, Mehrunissa says, “I was alive, but that was about it. They treated me like a pris­oner. They took all my cash, clothes, and jew­ellery. They de­nied me food and wa­ter. I would beg and plead in vain. They would threaten that they would kill me or that my hus­band would get mar­ried to some­one else.”

One day, when the beat­ings be­came too much to take, Mehrunissa jumped from her sec­ond floor home and landed on an as­bestos sheet on the first floor. The peo­ple on the ground floor helped her. Once on the ground, she didn’t waste a sec­ond. She got into an au­torick­shaw and went straight to her ma­ter­nal house. When asked if she felt any fear, she shrugs, “What did I have to

fear? My life was hell ei­ther way; this was my chance at a bet­ter life.”

Later, there were some at­tempts to sort things out. Her brother, Ali Ak­bar (name changed), filed a com­plaint against Ash­faq and his kin. The ac­cused gave an apol­ogy at the Vepery po­lice sta­tion and promised to re­turn Mehrunissa’s 30 sov­er­eigns of gold in three months’ time.

Those months turned into years, and Mehrunissa is still wait­ing for her gold. She went back to give her marriage another chance. But things were soon back to square one.

“My hus­band and mother-in­law would pour kerosene on me and threaten to set me ablaze. I was so pet­ri­fied that I would lock my­self in the bath­room,” she says.

In the midst of all this, Mehrunissa got preg­nant. “My child made me want to stay alive. But that hap­pi­ness did not last. One day, my in-laws gave me some­thing to drink and I had to be rushed to the hos­pi­tal. They had to op­er­ate on me when I was three months preg­nant. I lost my child.”

While she was mourn­ing the loss of her child, Ash­faq sent a let­ter to Ali’s house, claim­ing that the qazi had ac­cepted his di­vorce.

“Ash­faq never gave us a proper rea­son, which is manda­tory un­der Sharia law,” says an an­gry Ali, adding that Mehrunissa was not given her main­te­nance as pre­scribed by Sharia law.

“She stays with us, but what if we were not there? Where would she have gone? Be­cause the let­ter from the qazi is con­sid­ered the fi­nal word, we are not able to chal­lenge the de­ci­sion in court,” says Ali.

“All I want for her now is a good man who will show her how to be happy again,” is all that her mother can say.

TE­LAN­GANA

It takes an ef­fort to make Taran­num Bhanu speak. Sha­heen, the NGO that is help­ing her, coaxes her to open up. She speaks halt­ingly, “I was 15 or 16 when I was mar­ried in 2005. I have seven sis­ters and it was nat­u­ral that I would be mar­ried off early. He was an au­torick­shaw driver and had a lot of de­mands. I will leave you was some­thing I would hear from him ev­ery day.”

Re­call­ing the mo­ment that she knew her marriage ended, she says, “It was like my limbs were cut off. Sud­denly I had to think about a roof over my head, money to buy gro­ceries, and tak­ing care of my four chil­dren.”

A lazy man, his de­mands were un­end­ing. When it was clear that Taran­num could not meet the de­mands, talaq it was.

While her two younger chil­dren stay with her, the el­der two stay with the fa­ther. “The older ones also com­plain that they are abused, but I have no con­trol over any­thing,” she rues.

Mar­ried at 16, all that Fa­tima Biwi (name changed) en­dured dur­ing the 24 years of her mar­ried life was abuse and tor­ture.

A train ticket examiner, Fa­tima’s hus­band was a woman chaser. “Koi aur mil gayi, chale gaye uske peeche (He would find another woman and go af­ter her),” ex­plains an an­gry Fa­tima.

“Just be­cause a woman has the will and ca­pac­ity to en­dure, life keeps throw­ing more chal­lenges at her. I lost the will to live af­ter he left me,” she re­calls, pulling up her burkha to show us lines on her neck af­ter she tried to hang her­self.

Af­ter re­peat­edly threat­en­ing her with talaq since 1993, her hus­band took the fi­nal step in 2015. It came as a shocker to Fa­tima. He came along with the woman he chose to live with and force­fully made Fa­tima sign a doc­u­ment. “I don’t know what I signed on, but I knew it was over and the one thing I felt strongly was the feel­ing of hope­less­ness,” she re­calls.

“I was handicapped be­cause I was de­pen­dent on him for more than 20 years. One of my chil­dren is men­tally un­sta­ble. My daugh­ter is yet to be mar­ried. My youngest son has seen the trou­ble I take to make ends meet and has stopped go­ing to school. I get no money from him even though he is a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cer,” says she be­tween sobs.

Wasima Sul­tana is a 26-year- old who is clue­less about how to deal with what life has thrown at her. She was still griev­ing about her trauma of los­ing her son months af­ter he was born, when her hus­band and his par­ents started blam­ing her for the death.

“I was mar­ried be­cause ev­ery­one around me was get­ting mar­ried. We spent around `20 lakh for the wed­ding but their de­mands for dowry were too high. He wasn’t there be­sides me when I was preg­nant. It was a com­pli­cated surgery,” says she.

Two years af­ter her hus­band pro­nounced di­vorce, she is ac­tu­ally re­lieved. “I have no re­grets that the re­la­tion­ship ended as it was abu­sive. He would keep threat­en­ing di­vorce for ev­ery small thing. We lived to­gether for only one-and-a-half months, af­ter which he left for Dubai. He would threaten me from miles away,” Wasima re­calls.

While it was a sigh of re­lief, her strug­gles be­gan af­ter the di­vorce. “I lost my fa­ther and I live with my mother. I filed a main­te­nance case in court, but the only progress is a new date ev­ery time,” she shares. (Names have been changed)

KAR­NATAKA

Hasina Banu (name changed) shud­ders when asked about the fate­ful day that plunged her into an abyss of fear and un­cer­tainty, and made her a recluse. Her hus­band di­vorced her via triple talaq and threw her out of his house with her three chil­dren (the el­dest was 11). Her par­ents were in­ca­pable of sup­port­ing her, as they had to ar­range for the marriage of their other chil­dren. And all of this be­cause her hus­band felt, af­ter 10 years of marriage, that he could no longer sup­port them.

Hasina, 31, lives in Az­izud­din Road in Man­galuru. Her chil­dren were six, nine and 11 on that fate­ful day in Jan­uary 2016. Her hus­band Aj­mal (name changed) and his par­ents had been good to her, but had also al­ways been pow­er­less be­fore their son’s un­rea­son­able anger.

The day is etched in Hasina’s mind. Aj­mal got into a rage and said he couldn’t sus­tain the fam­ily. He wanted to marry another woman who would bring in a fat dowry, and Hasina would serve as her sub­or­di­nate. He di­vorced her with the three words.

Hasina be­longed to a large but poor fam­ily. Her fa­ther is a loader in the port; her mother works in an oil mill. The el­dest child among three sis­ters and four brothers, Hasina was just 20 when she was mar­ried off. The first baby fol­lowed the next year, fol­lowed by two more in quick suc­ces­sion. Aj­mal was a well-to-do busi­ness­man who dealt in dry fruits.

Post the first preg­nancy, things went down­hill as Aj­mal’s tem­per wors­ened, which also quelled the sup­port from her in-laws. Af­ter the third preg­nancy, Aj­mal first ut­tered the word talaq, a sort of warn­ing for what was to come.

“He first ac­cused me that I wasn’t help­ing his mother in house­hold chores. My moth­erin-law had tes­ti­fied that I was a great help to her. Then he ac­cused me of be­ing uneducated; my fa­ther-in-law sup­ported me on this. The third and fi­nal rea­son he gave was that he was not able to sup­port three chil­dren and a wife fi­nan­cially as it was putting his own life in jeop­ardy,” re­calls Hasina.

Af­ter the triple talaq, Hasina’s big­gest fear was the well-be­ing of her chil­dren. She started work­ing at the oil mill. She stays in a low-rent tworoom set, courtesy of a fam­ily which took pity on her and the kids. She is learn­ing to stitch with an old, bor­rowed sewing ma­chine. “My chil­dren go to school where they get mid-day meals,” she says. And this is Hasina’s big­gest source of mo­ti­va­tion and hap­pi­ness—her chil­dren.

ODISHA

Nine years af­ter her marriage, Kaniz Fa­tima’s world came crash­ing down when she dis­cov­ered that her hus­band, Mo­ham­madd Hanif, a teacher, was hav­ing an ex­tra-mar­i­tal af­fair. They had two school­go­ing sons.

A na­tive of Bala­sore district of Odisha, she mar­ried Hanif when she was 19. Hanif also taught in a madrasa.

“At first, I thought he might change over time. I took good care of him and the fam­ily, although I was shat­tered from in­side. I had no clue why would he be at­tracted to another woman,” says 38-year-old Kaniz.

But Hanif showed no change. “My hus­band wanted my con­sent for a sec­ond marriage, which I did not agree to,” she says. Dur­ing the fag end of 2012, Hanif ut­tered the dreaded words. It was like a ton of bricks hit­ting Fa­tima.

A few months later, Hanif left for school and did not re­turn. Fa­tima learned that he had taken leave with­out in­form­ing the fam­ily. He couldn’t be traced.

“Three months later, he re-ap­peared but did not come home. He stayed at the madrasa. There was no ef­fort on his part to reach out to us. Then he sent two more talaq no­tices through court. Along­side came the id­dat and meher via a pay cheque,” says Fa­tima.

Fa­tima didn’t ac­cept be­cause she wanted jus­tice. To cor­rob­o­rate his sec­ond and third ta­laqs, Hanif pro­duced wit­nesses. As per the ex­ist­ing norms, the wit­nesses must be known to the wife, but in this case, Fa­tima didn’t know any of them. She chal­lenged the talaq in court and filed a case of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“My fa­ther had helped my hus­band get a job and land, and con­structed the house at Dham­na­gar, only to wit­ness his daugh­ter get­ting tor­tured reg­u­larly,” she says.

While Hanif has re­mar­ried and has chil­dren with her, Fa­tima is strug­gling to meet her daily needs. She gets a monthly main­te­nance of `14,000 from Hanif, of which `8,000 goes for her chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion. Fa­tima, who has stud­ied up to Class VII, is now seek­ing her rights on the house, which she says is un­der forcible oc­cu­pa­tion of her hus­band and in-laws.

UT­TAR PRADESH

“He says if I go through nikah

ha­lala, he’ll take me back. But what is the guar­an­tee that the new one will leave me, and what is the guar­an­tee that he (hus­band) will ac­cept me. I’ll lose both the worlds. How will I live?” asks Shahla Naaz of Mo­rad­abad. Nikah ha­lala in­volves a fe­male di­vorcee mar­ry­ing some­one else, con­sum­mat­ing the marriage and then get­ting a di­vorce in or­der to make it al­low­able to re­marry her pre­vi­ous hus­band.

Af­ter 13 years of marriage and three chil­dren to look af­ter, Shahla was forced out of the house by her al­co­holic hus­band Faridudeen in the dead of night eight months ago. “Some­how I spent 13 years, how­so­ever tor­tur­ous, with him,” she says. Her hus­band has re­mar­ried. “All through 13 years, my hus­band and his fam­ily used to de­mand one thing or the other. My fa­ther ful­filled the de­mands to the best of his ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” she says. Faridudeen is a qual­ity con­trol man­ager in a pri­vate firm.

Things trig­gered off when Shahla asked Faridudeen to get cor­rec­tive surgery for their el­dest daugh­ter’s cleft lip. Shahla sold her jew­ellery to pay for the surgery. “He stopped talk­ing to me and his kids. He got en­gaged to another girl,” she says. Even then, Shahla re­mained at her in-law’s place and Faridudeen raped her for four con­tin­u­ous nights. “Af­ter hand­ing out talaq, phys­i­cal re­la­tion­ship with the es­tranged wife is

haraam as per our law. But he con­tin­ued even with­out my con­sent,” she says. Af­ter four nights of raping Shahla, Faridudeen went to his par­ents with his be­long­ings on the up­per floor of the house, leav­ing her to fend for her­self along with the chil­dren.

Shahla, a post-grad­u­ate in English Lit­er­a­ture, stayed on. Af­ter 20 days, Faridudeen forced her out of the house past mid­night know­ing her par­ents were away in Delhi. “I had no op­tion but to go to the po­lice sta­tion where my hus­band was called,” says Shahla. But the worst was yet to come. When con­fronted by the po­lice, Faridudeen ac­cused Shahla of pros­ti­tu­tion. “That was my last en­counter with him. Now the case is in the court. He isn’t ready to give us fi­nan­cial main­te­nance. He says if I want to go back, I’ll have to go through nikah

ha­lala, which I can never agree to,” she adds.

“At first, I thought he might change over time. I TOOK GOOD CARE OF HIM AND THE FAM­ILY, ALTHOUGH I WAS SHAT­TERED FROM IN­SIDE. I HAD NO CLUE WHY WOULD HE BE AT­TRACTED TO ANOTHER WOMAN.”

Kaniz Fa­tima, whose hus­band di­vorced her for another woman

“I was dev­as­tated and wanted to com­mit sui­cide. BUT THE THOUGHT OF MY TWO CHIL­DREN’S FU­TURE GAVE ME COURAGE. I CAN’T BUY MILK FOR MY DAUGH­TER AND BOOKS AND CLOTHES FOR MY SON. I TAKE CARE OF MY OLD, SICK MOTHER.”

Mariam, do­mes­tic help and mother of two

“I had no house, no money. He threw me out. MY FAM­ILY RE­FUSED TO SUP­PORT ME AS FOR THEM TRIPLE TALAQ IS A TA­BOO.”

Ta­nia, di­vorced af­ter she en­rolled her daugh­ter in a public school

“He first ac­cused me that I wasn’t help­ing his mother in house­hold chores. THEN HE AC­CUSED ME OF BE­ING UNEDUCATED. THE FI­NAL REA­SON HE GAVE WAS THAT HE COULDN’T SUP­PORT THREE CHIL­DREN AND A WIFE FI­NAN­CIALLY.”

Hasina Banu, whose hus­band di­vorced her over money

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