When Zeenat Syed (name changed), 18, developed a red rash on her leg six months ago, little did she realise that it would lead to the end of her one-year-old marriage. Fearing the “leprosy-like” symptom, two months ago, her husband, who was in Dubai, gave her a divorce by saying ‘Talaq’ thrice.
On Tuesday, Syed will be among a few Muslim women part of a conference organised by the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a not-for-profit organisation, to discuss the subject of oral unilateral divorce and how it affects women.
Women activists have been demanding codified laws to ban unilateral divorce and remove the gender bias from the religious law that allows the husband to unilaterally get a divorce even in the absence of his wife.
“I was at my mother’s house in Mumbra to undergo treatment, when my in-laws informed me that my husband had divorced me by mentioning talaq to his friends in Dubai,” said Syed. “Though the rash has been cured, they are not willing to take me back,” she said.
Stronger laws are required, activists say. “Divorce should not be a unilateral decision but a mutual one,” said Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder, BMMA. “We are asking for a broader law that will protect women from such unilateral divorces and that will also cover issues of age of marriage and polygamy,” she said.
“All citizens have equal rights under the law, but under the religious law, Muslim women do not have equal rights. These laws are gender-biased,” said Hasina Khan from Awaaz-e-Nizwaan, a not-for-profit organisation that works with Muslim women. Khan pointed out that more cases of oral divorces have come to light over the last few years due to increasing awareness.
Community leaders argued that while men are allowed to end a marriage at their will, most men do not practise it as it is considered a sin if not done following proper procedure. “It is allowed under Shairat law, but is a sin unless done after approaching elders to intervene or attempt reconciliation,” said Maulana Sayed Athar Ali, president, All India Ulema Association.