The month of Ramzan, when the faithful spend their days fasting and in prayers, begins this week. The month is also a time for charity and other good deeds. The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a group campaigning for reforms in marriage and divorce laws, is hoping to use this period of piety to get empathy for the thousands of women whose lives have been disrupted by triple talaq, a practice where the husband can unilaterally end a marriage by repeating the word talaq, or divorce, thrice.
The group, which collected nearly 50,000 signatures in its petition to end the custom, calls the second phase of their movement as the ‘photo campaign’. From this week, on every alternate day during Ramzan, BMMA’s Facebook page will relate the story of a woman whose life has been shattered by triple talaq. The post will feature the narrator’s photograph and story. “We are appealing to the larger community in the holy month, drawing their attention to women who have been treated unjustly,” said Noorjehan Safia Naaz, founder of BMMA, which had created the draft of a law that codifies Muslim marriage and divorce laws.
According to Naaz, they face two opponents in their campaign for more just divorce laws. First, it is the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which claims to be the apex consultative body for Muslim marriage and divorce laws. It does not want any change in marital customs. Another opponent is politicians who are yet to respond to BMMA’s campaign. “We know law making is a parliamentary process, but they (politicians) are the least responsive to our demands,” said Naaz.
The campaigners wonder why the government and the media are worried about the AIMPLB’s opinion. “The group is not a representative body and has no legal standing,” said Feroze Mithiborwala, a social activist who has supported the petition.
While most Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice, the threat of triple talaq is a life-long fear that the Indian Muslim women endure. A survey by the BMMA —reported by HT in March 2015 — said that a majority of women, around 90% of the 4,700 respondents across the country, want the practice to be abolished. Groups like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) do not recognise the survey’s findings or the petition as representative of the general views in the community. “They (BMMA) have said that 50,000 people have signed the petition, we do not think even 50 Muslims supported them,” said Maulana Syed Athar Ali, a member of the board.
The AIMPLB agrees that ending a marriage by using the word ‘divorce’ three times in quick succession is not a good practice – it is undesirable and wrong in the eyes of God, but once done it is not retractable. “The divorce is final but the man is guilty,” Ali said, adding that religious laws advise a gap of three months — corresponding to three menstrual cycles — between successive pronouncements of divorce. This, he said, is to give the couple a chance to revive their marriage. “But banning triple talaq is wrong,” said Ali.
BMMA said that thousands of men have signed the petition which has been submitted to the National Commission for Women. This week, a group of men, including Mithiborwala, are expected to release a statement calling for a ban on triple talaq. “This is not the Shah Bano era of 1986 (when, bowing to the wishes of orthodox Muslims, Parliament passed a law restricting a divorced woman’s right to maintenance). Though the movement for reform is being led by women, the need for change is being debated across families,” said Mithiborwala. “The issue is no longer dependent on men and Maulanas. Muslim women are setting the agenda. Religious leaders are not at par with intellectual debate taking place in the community.”