There's been a lot of debate around the issue of triple talaq of late, especially since the Supreme Court started hearing a petition questioning its legal validity. Here, rather than going into the merits of the petition, I want to present the sociolegal aspects of triple talaq as experienced by three Muslim women -- Salma (28), Shaheen (45) and Sajjida (48) *– who spoke to me in my capacity as a lawyer about the travails they are facing. All three came from well-to-do families and each had been divorced against her will. They had all approached the courts either challenging the talaq or at least asking for interim maintenance/alimony to be granted.
Shaheen asks, when a man is all-powerful and can end his marriage regardless of whether his wife wants to or not, is it not a violation of human rights?
As I listened to them, what struck me as a common thread between them was how helpless they are before the law when it comes to challenging the unilateral divorce they were given. After all, as far as their husbands are concerned they have been granted a divorce and are free to remarry. It's the women whose lives are in turmoil. In fact, in Salma's case the husband is already remarried and brazenly comes with his second wife to court for the hearings. Salma has two young kids, both under 10, and although she is well off, it is painful for her to challenge the divorce and seek maintenance while facing her husband and his new wife. The dilemma she faces is a big one -- the word complicated doesn't even begin to describe this situation. What happens if the triple talaq in Salma's case proves to be invalid? Is she to continue her marriage then? Along with her husband's new wife? What about the children? What will they feel?
Legal aspects aside, triple talaq is an essentially inhumane practice. It divests a woman of all power in a marriage. Her husband can divorce her whenever he feels like it and she has no say in the matter. This is what happened to Shaheen. Her husband apparently decided she wasn't subservient enough and the fact that she had a mind of her own (and let it be known) galled him. Her punishment was triple talaq. Shaheen asks, when a man is all-powerful and has the ability to end his marriage regardless of whether his wife wants to or not, is it not a violation of human rights?
Sajjida's asks – why is such a huge difference in the time taken for the dispensation of talaq versus the time it normally takes to get a divorce?
Divorce in India generally takes quite a while, especially if the matter is contested, but there are provisions for justice for women. The courts, which are more pro-marriage than pro-divorce, also provide the couple with ample opportunities to reconcile. However, poor Sajjida went from Mrs. to Miss before she could say Jack Robinson. The speed with which the triple talaq was effected has turned her life upside down. She also has little support from her family in Dubai since she had rebelled against their wishes to get married and settled down in India with her husband. Sajjida's question is this – why is such a huge difference in the time taken for the dispensation of talaq versus the time it normally takes to get a divorce in India?
The dilemmas they are facing have made me realize how deeply triple talaq cripples the rights of Muslim women. I can only hope that the Supreme Court will have some answers for them.
* All identifying details changed