Fathima's life became a living nightmare after she was married off at 17. Her husband only saw her as a punching bag or a sex machine, and most times, as both.
Going back to her parents was not an option - they were too poor, still saddled under the loan they'd taken for her marriage. Some suggested that she take her problem to the local Sharia court, but Fathima refused to relive her nightmare before an all-male court.
For 39- year-old Anees, the dilemma was different. Her 19-year-old daughter, a graduate working at a BPO, would get herself waxed at a beauty parlour. Was her daughter doing the right thing? Was it Islamic, Anees wondered. But there was no one she could go to with these questions. <b1>
Or take the case of Nazia, 32, whose brothers cheated her of her share in their parents' property But would the all-male shariat in Bihar do her justice? She wasn't so sure.
For all three women, deliverance came in the form of the first exclusive female Sharia court in Hyderabad. Started in 2003, the Jamiat ul Momminat has handled almost 6000 petitions from Muslim women on issues ranging from marriage to working at a BPO and body piercing.
"We receive three to four letters per day. We try and dispose of them the same day ," said head mufti Nazima Aziz. The court's five muftis are all women – and they're all educated and computer savvy .
"Our success rate is quite good. The majority of the cases are settled amicably ," said Mastan Ali, who founded the court along with his wife, mufti Rizwana Zarin. Although, he says, the court does not have the same powers as a regular court, since none of its orders are legally binding. "But most people see reason through persuasion. Many couples on the verge of divorce are now living happily after we counseled them," he adds.
Recently the court issued a fatwa ban , ning dowry and asked all Muslims to boy , cott marriages in which dowry had been given. It even runs a school for girls at nominal fees. At last count, 2,200 girls had been enrolled at the school.
And come March, the Sharia court will also become web-savvy - allowing petitions to be emailed from anywhere in the world.