Reshma* is barely sixteen, but she has already undergone enough suffering to last a lifetime.
As is the practice in many parts of rural Rajasthan, she was married off at a very young age to Ataullah – a resident of Khajuwala village in Bikaner. Then, six months ago, a man called Abu forced his way into the house and allegedly raped Reshma while her in-laws were out attending a family function.
The traumatised girl turned to her sister-in-law, who – in turn – informed Ataullah. But her husband didn’t approach the police or take on Abu himself. He, instead, said three words that probably every Muslim wife dreads hearing one day.
Talaq, talaq, talaq.
Reshma’s distraught father, Sharif Ahmad, approached a caste panchayat in the hope that it would provide justice to the girl. The village elders’ decision, however, shocked both Reshma and Ahmad.
The panchayat’s written decision bore the following points:
Yakub Khan, Reshma’s former father-in-law, will bear the expenses of iddat – the period of time a woman must remain unmarried after the death of her spouse or a divorce – constituting Rs 4,000 in cash and 60kg of wheat. The purpose of iddat is to ensure that the male parent of any offspring produced after the cessation of a nikah is known.
After the iddat, she can marry any of the four sons of one Jamal Khan .
Ataullah cannot remarry without Ahmad’s consent, and if he does, a fine of Rs 3 lakh would have to be paid to his divorced wife’s family.
“Two decisions have ruined my life,” Reshma told HT. “First, my husband divorced me instead of taking action against the accused, and as if that wasn’t enough, the panchayat arrived at a decision that was even more illogical.”
Her father, on the other hand, couldn’t believe that the elders let Reshma’s rapist go scot free. “I thought they will punish Abu, but they left him untouched. In the name of following religious customs, they are subjecting my daughter to a lifetime of suffering,” he said. On Friday, Reshma and Ahmad filed a complaint against the alleged rapist – besides panchayat members and Ataullah’s family – with Bikaner superintendent of police.
*Name changed to protect identity.