New Delhi: In 2019, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill was passed by the parliament on July 30, to be made into a law that criminalised instant triple talaq.
Making it a criminal offence, the law provides for a jail term of three years for the Muslim man who commits the crime. The law also makes triple talaq a cognisable and non-bailable offence.
Clause 3 in Chapter 2 of the Act clarifies that, “any pronouncement of talaq by a person upon his wife, by words, either spoken or written or in electronic form or in any other manner whatsoever, shall be void and illegal”. The same clause also stated that, “whoever pronounces Triple Talaq upon his wife shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and fine”.
In August 2017, a Supreme Court verdict had struck down the practice of instant triple talaq. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that this did not dissuade the practice and that despite the court verdict, women were still being divorced by the talaq-e-biddah.
Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria, Indonesia, Iran and Tunisia are some other countries which had de-recognised instant triple talaq, terming them ‘biddah‘ or ‘talaq-e-biddah‘ which indicates that they are additions to the core religion, which Muslims are advised against.
After this law was passed, many activists slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government for introducing it, citing that it would make it easier to incriminate Muslim men.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi had also vocally stood against the criminalisation of this offence, and said, “The Supreme Court has decriminalised homosexuality, adultery and you are about to criminalise triple talaq. You [hitting at the BJP government] are sure to form a new India!”
A section of Muslim women had also condemned the criminalisation of instant triple talaq and said that they did not need to be saved or rescued by the BJP government.
However, over a year after the instant triple talaq was criminalised, it has not translated into actual arrests of culprits.
Ground reality and a case study
An example is Rehana Parveen, a resident of Delhi’s Jasola Village. She was 20-years-old when she married Vakil Saifi, who lived at Sangam Vihar. She had been, what she calls a “dutiful wife” during her entire marriage. She would do all the house chores including cleaning and cooking meals for the entire family, as well as taking care of her husband.
Within the first year of her marriage, she realised that her husband was an alcoholic, a drug addict and would often get violent with her over the smallest of things. Vakil, a mechanic by profession, would earn enough money to at least take her to the hospital when needed. “But he never would, he just didn’t care. Even during my two pregnancies, I was on my own, at the mercy of my parents,” she says.
Wakeel had once hit Rehana with a helmet on her arm. She had to go for a medical check-up alone the next day. He would often also accuse her of infidelity and alleged that the two kids were not his own, she says. The children, Arish and Faraz, are now five and two years old.
Despite everything, Rehana feared divorce most. In addition to social censure, she also did not want to burden her old parents, who already had two daughters and a son to look after.
She says, “I was ready to live with everything – beatings, negligence and unending abuses. But when I got to know that he had married a second time, I was hurt and I told him that his second marriage was invalid, since he had not told the Qazi that he was already married. My consent was not taken, and I told him to leave her.”
Within months of finding out about his second marriage, Rehana was given an instant triple talaq in May this year by Vakil, who has since been absconding, according to the police. He has, however, applied for anticipatory bail. In the affidavit attached with his nikahnama with his second wife, Vakil has declared that he “is unmarried.”
After her husband gave her triple talaq and left her on May 28, she had nowhere to go. “I was living with his family. His brother and parents no longer wanted me or my kids there.” A week after having been divorced through the illegal triple talaq system, she was returned to her parent’s house by her in-laws.
A graduate (with honours) in Urdu from Jamia Millia Islamia, a central university, Rehana who did the course in private, considers herself ‘uneducated and unskilled’. “I don’t have a job or money of my own to stand up on my own two feet. I was a burden on my husband’s family after he left me, and after coming back to my parent’s house, I am a burden on them.”
Rehana did not know at that time that triple talaq has been banned by Indian law. “I did not know about the change in Indian law, but I did know that our Quran does not permit this way of divorce,” she says.
A month later, she filed an FIR (first information report) at the Neb Sarai police station when she got to know that what she had suffered (the triple talaq) was a punishable crime.
It has been over three months since the FIR was filed, but Vakil is still untraceable. Rehana hopes, day and night, that she and her children get the justice that they deserve.
Naresh Solanki, Station House Officer of Neb Sarai police station, when approached by The Wire said that the culprit has been “absconding.”
Imdad Hussain, Rehana’s father, owns a small water supply store that sends priced water bottles in nearby areas. He regrets that he did not ensure that her daughter got a job before she got married. “If she had been earning money, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” he says.
Zakia Soman is a women’s rights activist who was one of the most vocal voices against the practice of triple talaq in India. She is also the founding member of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which she describes as a “mass organisation of Muslim women in India.” She says that over the past year, there has been an exceptionally low rate of arrests in such cases. The organisation headed by her has received about 50 cases from across India over the past one year, out of which only one culprit got arrested and jailed. “He was also given bail in three days’ time,” she says.
“This is precisely the problem. Although the law is now more than a year old, but we find that it has been extremely difficult to get justice in such cases. As of now, we are finding that this law is not translating well on ground.”
According to her, even getting an FIR registered in such cases is extremely difficult because the police do not usually cooperate. “In front of the police, men often deny that they have given triple talaq to their wives. It becomes one story versus another,” she says.
Despite her strict stance against triple talaq, she says that this particular route was never the target. “Our target was to give justice to women. No one can be forced to live with their spouse forcefully, and it is understandable that divorce gives them a way out. What we were actually seeking was just and fair deal for the women – which is yet to happen. It is not like the law came and triple talaq just ended. It is a deeply entrenched system among Indian Muslims,” she says.
She says that the main reason for triple talaq being such a widespread practice in Indian society is the lack of awareness about real Islam among those in the Muslim community in India and the deeply ingrained patriarchy.
“After telling some men about what the Quran really says about divorce, many of them have responded to us by saying that they would never do such a thing if their lord did not want them to,” she says.
Can it get better?
Soman says, “Governments care only about their politics; nobody cares about the women. It is ultimately the thought process that we must change. We have to give our daughters the rights granted to them by Allah, and then greater education and awareness should be given to women about their constitutional rights.”
The criticism that surrounded the law – that it was aimed at throwing Muslim men behind bars, she says, was unfounded. “Even FIRs are not getting filed…” Soman says.
However, she says that the government’s interest in passing this law has now dwindled. “It’s a Hindutva-ruled government, and one of their major plans has been to demonise Muslims and to use the pathetic condition of Muslim women for their political gains. However, [Muslim] women themselves also wanted this kind of a provision. But the women who could have benefitted from this law are not getting any justice. They may claim things, but we have not seen it on the ground,” she says.
She added, “Owaisi had said that this law was introduced with the sole purpose of putting Muslim men behind bars, which is not true. Muslim women are still suffering…but it is a beginning to make more Muslim women aware of their rights and empowered enough to take a stand for themselves.”
In July this year, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Union Minister of Minority Affairs and BJP leader had said that there has been a 82% decline in triple talaq cases since the law against the “social evil” of instant triple talaq was put in place.
When approached by The Wire, he said that in multiple cases, there have been no arrests because FIRs have been compounded.
“At that time, everybody in the parliament had shouted that they wanted a provision for compounding in such cases,” Naqvi says.
Compoundable offences are those offences where the complainant or the victim agrees to have the charges dropped against the accused. Section 320 in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, deals with the compounding of offences.
“When we get such reports from Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh, girls file FIRs which later, due to fear, were compounded. Most FIR’s get quashed because of this. But in the case that you have referred, I am sure the police must be searching for the culprit,” he adds.
He also said that the Ministry of Minority Affairs will not shy away from getting victims of triple talaq justice. “The minority commission received two to three such cases, which we tracked immediately. Cases of oral triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat have substantially reduced. But yes, there are some such cases as the one you have referred to [Rehana’s story] and we are willing to intervene in such cases,” he said.
Shahin Parwez, a member Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the minority wing of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) agrees that FIRs are exceedingly difficult to register.
“Women must spend too much time, and in some cases, the police. In some cases, arrests also happen immediately. In other cases, anticipatory bails are also granted to culprits.”
State wise data collected by Muslim Rashtriya Manch over the past reveals that the lowest number of cases were found in Assam: 17, and the highest was recorded in Uttar Pradesh, 1,034, out of which in only 265 cases arrests have taken place.
Madhya Pradesh, which ranked number 8 had 32 cases. West Bengal had 201 reported cases while Maharashtra recorded 102. Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Kerala had 83, 26, 26, and 19 cases.
No clear data on how many arrests have taken place in instant triple talaq cases is available with the MRM, but Parwez insists that, “50% arrests would have taken place.”
She is also an advocate who has fought such cases in Meerut and secured punishment for culprits. “In such cases, men get bail within a few days, but I have got the accused jailed for 2-3 months too. The law is definitely good, men are now scared to give instant talaq. But there are also other sides to it.”
She added that the states which are governed by the BJP have seen a better result, but “where other parties are ruling, they have not taken it too seriously to implement the law through police.”
In the country’s capital city, Rehana – who is unaware of the politics involved in her particular predicament – now sits with her two sons. She wishes for just one thing, that the justice that was promised to her by this law be given now.