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India

Muslim 'Instant Divorce' Takes Center Stage In India

In India, Muslim women hold poster to protest Triple talaq divorce practice
In India, Muslim women hold poster to protest Triple talaq divorce practice
Bismillah Geelani

MUMBAI — Afreen Rehman, 28, is one of five Muslim women who recently took her case to India's Supreme Court demanding a ban on a controversial practice known as "Triple Talaq," or instant divorce.

Afreen says she had been married just two months when her in-laws started harassing her about her dowry. "My husband and other in-laws started mentally harassing me, saying that he has a law degree and that any other girl would have brought a large cash dowry and a big car while I brought nothing," she says.

Afreen's in-laws sent her back to her parents' home. And then she received notice of divorce in the mail. "It was in his own handwriting and was signed by two witnesses. Before pronouncing the divorce three times he made horrible, baseless allegations against me, things I can't even repeat in front of anyone," she says. "But the point is, how you can divorce someone like this, in an expedited letter?"

"Some people are told about the divorce by telegram, or Skype, or even in text messages."

Afreen's husband had performed Triple Talaq. But uttering the word "talaq" three times, he instantly divorced her, without her knowledge or agreement.

She was shocked, but soon realized she wasn't alone. "This is being done to many women," Afreen says. "It is only when it happens to you that you realize what is happening. Some people are told about the divorce by telegram, or Skype, or even in text messages."

Jilted but determined, the young woman decided to fight back. "So I challenged it," she says. "Not just for myself, but for every woman, so that no woman suffers like I do. Triple Talaq is unacceptable and it should stop."

Awaiting the verdict

Over six days last week, India's Supreme Court heard petitions from women and groups, including Afreen, who are seeking to abolish Triple Talaq. Now, as both sides await the court verdict with bated breath, a nationwide debate is firing up.

Zakia Soman, founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (Indian Muslim Women's Movement), is one of the petitioners. She says the practice is both un-Islamic and unconstitutional, and must go. "It is banned in several Muslim countriesaround the world over precisely because the Koran has no mention of Triple Talaq. In fact, as per the Koran, the marriage is a social contract with equal rights to the husband and wife ,and equal rights to the husband and wife to seek divorce," she explains.

"Muslim scholars largely agree that performing Triple Talaq in one go is prohibited, and even punishable."

Soman's view, based on the Koran, is that couples should go through an elaborate reconciliation procedure lasting at least three months. "If that doesn't work, they should even try mediation before resorting to something as drastic as Talaq," she says.

Muslim scholars largely agree that performing Triple Talaq in one go is prohibited, and even punishable, as it violates the divorce procedure laid down in the Koran. Talaq should be uttered on three separate occasions, they say, allowing time to resolve differences.

Mohammad Saleem is a member of the Muslim Personal Law Board, a coalition of Muslim organizations defending Triple Talaq.

"The problem is ignorance," he says. "Islam discourages divorce per se. Divorce is the most disliked among allowed things in Islam. But people do it. It's like alcohol. It's prohibited in Islam, but still some Muslims drink it. This is not an area where governments or courts can intervene and decide. It has to be resolved at the community level."

"Triple Talaq does not satisfy the standards of gender equality, gender dignity and gender justice."

In this case, however, government has gotten involved, throwing its weight behind the women who are seeking the ban. "We have taken our stand on the basis of the constitution," Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters. "The Indian constitution gives women the right to life, equality and dignity without discrimination, and Triple Talaq does not satisfy the standards of gender equality, gender dignity and gender justice."

Prime Minister Modi has chimed in as well, frequently raising the issue of Triple Talaq at public rallies.

Indian law currently respects Muslim Personal Law, a set of Islamic rules governing family life and other personal issues of Muslims such as marriage, divorce and inheritance. But with its slogan of "One Country, One Law," Modi's Hindu Nationalist BJP Party opposes Muslim Personal Laws, and favors a Uniform Civil Code that would apply to all Indians.

Mohammad Saleem of the Muslim Personal Law Board sees that as an attack on religious freedom. "Clearly this is a ploy," he says. "They want to pave the way for a Uniform Civil Code, and create divisions among communities. But personal laws are protected by the constitution. It is a matter of religious freedom and they can't take it away from us."

Muslims are not, however, united on the issue. Some, like author and activist Sadia Dehlavi, want to ban not only Triple Talaq but also Personal Laws. "The reform is never going to come from the Muslim community," she says. "It is time for the courts to step in and to do away with the personal laws and implement Uniform Civil Code that guarantees the same right to Muslim women as to all women in the country and there should be one law that protects all women across faiths."

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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