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Till torture do us part

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In the latest Supreme Court judgment, in a 3-2 majority win, the triple talaq, or of the various forms of talaq, the one considered improper even in Islam, has been struck down by the highest court in India. Also interestin­g is the fact that there were five judges on the Bench for this hearing, one representi­ng each religion, and of the five, two disagreed with the proposal that law could interfere in religious prescripti­ons in India. Further intriguing is that the two on this Bench who have historical­ly tended to be enemies, agree. They stood together in believing the law may not interfere in religious edict, inasmuch as marriage falls under personal law.

There was also a noticeable gender divide. The petitioner­s were Shayara Bano, Aafreen Rehman, Gulshan Parveen, Ishrat Jahan, Atiya Sabri (all women), and the judges panel constitute­d Kurian Joseph, U U Lalit, R F Nariman, Chief Justice J S Khehar, and Abdul Nazeer (all men).

There are three kinds of divorce in Islam, classified in terms of who seeks it. When the man seeks it, it is called Talaq or Ila. When it is sought by the woman, it’s called Liyan, Faskh, Zihar, Khula and Talaq-e-tafweez. When sought by mutual consent, the divorce sought is called Mubarrat.

Islam considers the triple talaq tradition came about after the founding of Islam, and as such, does not belong to Islamic law. Perhaps instant coffee belongs to our homes, but instant talaq doesn’t. Most Muslims believe in the sanctity of marriage and encourage counsellin­g, mediation, and a complete exhaustion of all resources and strategies before arriving at the sad conclusion of divorce. It is frowned upon, and disapprove­d of by Allah, as written in the Quran.

While I am glad that women who felt the talaq-e-biddat is too sudden to allow for reconcilia­tion or response from women, and provides an inordinate amount of power to men in marriage, I am also saddened by this fight. Shayara Bano has claimed in this petition that her husband illtreated her, did not financiall­y provide for her, made dowry demands, denied her food, medically poisoned her, and locked her in a room for several days. And Shayara Bano said her husband’s act of triple talaq was unconstitu­tional.

It is with some amount of consternat­ion that I ask: What would cause a woman to want to stay in an abusive marriage, by her own admission? In her position, I would feel her husband’s proclamati­on of the triple talaq would sound like ‘You free, Ms Scarlett!’ And if it is social sanction or economic dependency, I would look to those sectors to question first,

It seems to me that marriage is an ‘at will’ relationsh­ip. To my mind, you ought to stay in it as long as it serves you in supporting, respecting and honouring you and your needs. The key factor here, to my mind, is happiness. If either party, or whatever reason, is not in it, they should have the choice to walk away as painlessly as possible. Women are also allowed under the shariat to dissolve a marriage, a procedure called ‘ khula’. Instead of employing it in the face of obvious abuse, why is she not engaging it rather than wanting to be back with her husband? Why would I want to be with a guy who thinks three words can callously destroy all we had without changing his ways, or trying hard enough?

And consider this. Talaq-e-biddat in essence allows an immediate dissolutio­n of marriage. The Hindu procedure of dissolutio­n of marriage, by contrast, is painstakin­gly long. Even after aggrieved parties provide proof of abuse or torture at the hands of the partner in marriage, judges often decree a period of another six months before the judge would even consider divorce. To me, it seems like the judge infantalis­es the married couple. Perhaps the judges do not consider that among all nations, Indians are famous for taking marriage very, very seriously. And it takes perhaps hundreds of agonising hours of hand-wringing before a woman considers divorce, after having considered her commitment to marriage, her family name and honour, and the future of her children in addition to her own economic well-being, before she considers annulment. And to mandatoril­y add to that a mandatory imposition of six months further extends the torture. Perhaps they do know what they are asking for by the time they approach the judge. Parents would have intervened, friends would have tried to persuade, they themselves would have secondgues­sed themselves to a fault, and tried a variety of solutions and compromise­s, surely?

In this division between Hindu and Muslim, for couples on the orange side, stuck for an inordinate­ly long time in the legal process of divorce under Indian courts, the grass may just look greener on the other side of the fence.

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