When Shayara Bano’s world was suddenly disrupted by the utterance of her husband’s three most ominous words she wasn’t the first woman to be facing the indignity rendered to her status and life. Neither was her angst the first of its kind. But, she was the first woman who’s story spearheaded one of the most iconic edicts to be brought forth in the Constitution.
Talaq-e-biddat is an age old doctrine sanctifying the utterance of ‘Talaq’ thrice by a husband legally translates into an irrevocable and binding divorce for the wife. Though the utterance has to be over a period of ninety days, the Hanafi sect of the Sunnis (majority of Sunni Muslims in India), sanctioned the instantaneous utterance of the three words as an absolute conclusive stance. The woman, mostly has no right to refute the declaration. Traditionally it required, deliverance of the decision expressed in words but with the advent of new age technology it transcended to all forms of electronic communication as well. This had been highly criticized as unconstitutional and a blatant violation of the rights of Muslim women. However ours is a country that has seen governments treading cautiously on the waters of religious beliefs and divisive political agenda. Any upfront policy would have been an imminent nationwide criticism by the conformist clerics and their followers. Nonetheless, this very tradition has seen immense disapproval the world over with many theocratic Islamist nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia banning the custom.
Shayara Bano’s fight for justice brought the Indian lawmakers to an unforeseen dilemma. A landmark verdict by the Supreme Court of India instituted Triple Talaq as unlawful. Interestingly, the five member bench comprising of multi-faith judges justified the chargeability of criminal offense as a majority. The minority amongst them comprising of Justice Khehar and Justice Abdul Nazeer discarded the unconstitutional element, but urged Parliamentary action in terms of a ratified law. They too implied the advances made in Muslim Personal Law as those, that have been made by other non-secular countries. Following this, the bygone year saw a possible respite in the form of Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017. However, in spite of the clearance obtained by the session in Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha Opposition not only reprimanded the clauses, but the matter remained in suspension. With Congress voicing the need for scrutiny on this legislation, the bill could not be brought into effect thereafter. The issue which had the rights of several Muslim women in the country at stake once again had been usurped into the Ruling versus Oppositionist scheme on the whole.
In a widely discussed point from the Prime Minister’s Independence Day Speech, the support to criminalizing this practice lawfully had been duly made under the light of Opposition hindrance and dispute. This continued the affair of politicizing of the common citizen’s harsh reality and a huge skepticism was drawn over the matter. The most recent development comes as hope with Union cabinet passing the Ordinance on the pending bill with the President’s assent. This move obligates the Parliament to clear the same within the next six months, failing which re-promulgation would be required. Cited as absolutely necessary by many, now the bill stands a step closer to witness the light of the day. The notable amendments include making the charge cognizable only if the woman or a blood relative claims. The charge is non bailable, until the magistrate accords. Also, the charges could be dropped in the future in case of reconciliation. The Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, asserted the previous mandates and further added the woman would be the custodian of her minor children and entitled to alimony post settlement. Declared to be a landmark move indeed it comes with the actual implementation task challenge to pioneer a much needed change.
There have been accusations of a polarized power play by the ruling majority to garner vote banks and it widely upset those seeking diversion of justice. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a non government group regulating laws of the religion, spewed criticism over the judgment seeking to empower the affected women. Needless to say the decision has left many fuming and many rejoicing as well. Lobbying groups supporting the movement such as Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan welcomed the change and most remain hopeful of the outcomes of this exercise.
In the near future what remains to be seen is the real time execution of what is notified on paper. The fight for equality, dignity and justice for the women has been a fight against a 1400 year old patriarchal notion of dominance and control. Several burning questions against the practice of polygamy and Nikaah halal are being raised by the women in many parts of the country. Nikaah halal institutes a woman, in order to marry her previous husband must consummate the marriage with another man before re-marrying. It has been deemed un-Islamic by many sovereigns and activists alike but is waiting a fitting remedial measure as yet. The struggle intensified after a petitioner had been attacked with acid for resisting the ritual. The Supreme Court too expressed concern over the protection of these women who are fighting for an unethical violation of their individual rights.
Over the course of past few months, many landmark verdicts and milestone bills have been passed. But what remains too good to be true on news headlines, needs to infiltrate and percolate through the conscience and outlook of the people in general. India is a home to a plethora of diversity but the variation inevitably leads to marginalization. It is probably a defunct human attribute- exploitation powered by dominance in numbers. Women have been marginalized and oppressed over the centuries under the garb of tradition and culture. Over the centuries these sidelined stories are finally finding a voice. And nothing terrifies the oppressors more than the strong, resonant voice demanding justice.
Our country rings with the anguish and pain faced by thousands like Shayara Bano. Grappling with the tyrannical outlooks of the convention, the pacifying resolutions and reforms may come as a slight loosening of the societal fetters but breaking free may be a long way with battling every last of the remaining patriarchal minds. We need to bring notions of equality to the table, discuss issues and make the idea mainstream. Though Shayara might be smiling today, but can an illustrious judgment and ordinance usher the desired effect or remain a clever political bargain? We wish Shayara Bano v. The Union of India remains the last of the traumatic stories we need as a society for an eye opener.
Would you concede to the potential of this decision? To change?