Afrin was always fond of the social media. For the 22-year-old Shahjahanpur resident, it was a form of refuge—an escape from a life torn apart by four years of a tumultuous marriage.
One chilly January evening this year, she was lost in a happy reverie, scrolling down her Facebook timeline, featuring mundane updates on love, life and poetry, punctuated with news, when a post hit her.
It was from her husband. “Talaq, Talaq, Talaq,” it said.
Afrin read the three words over and over again as her three-year-old daughter scattered toys all over the bed, some of which fell to the floor with a loud jangle.
It was merely the beginning of Afrin’s trial. A day later, her mobile beeped with an incoming message. It read, “Talaq, Talaq, Talaq.”
Her husband had expressed his determination loud and clear. As if the relentless torture with unending dowry demands was not enough, Afrin was now being booted out.
“She was always happy as a child. But the incidents seem to have irreversibly changed her life,” Afrin’s mother, Fareeda Begum, told PTI from Uttar Pradesh’s Shahjahanpur.
Afrin has been taken to a relative’s house, away from her maternal home, as the husband’s family has been threatening to take her daughter away, her mother said.
Her husband’s way to annul the marriage, which in Islam is a civil contract based on consent, has broken Afrin’s spirit. And it is this form of termination that is at the heart of a raging dispute on the practice of triple talaq.
The issue came to the fore in February last year when Shayara Bano, a triple talaq victim, petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking a ban on the divorce form, polygamy and nikah halala, a practice under which a divorced Muslim woman has to marry again, consummate the marriage and then break it if she wants to go back to her first husband.
Thousands of Muslim women across the country have since formed pressure groups and spearheaded signature campaigns demanding the abolition of the practice.
Read | Woman in Hyderabad accuses husband of giving her divorce through whatsapp message
Shayara’s case has been clubbed with a clutch of similar petitions by the apex court, which will hear the matter from May 11. The Centre has already taken a stand against triple talaq.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) claims Shariat upholds the validity of triple talaq - under which a Muslim husband can divorce his wife by merely pronouncing the word “talaq” three times.
Talaq, or divorce, can be obtained in either of two ways. Under ‘talaq-ul-sunnat’, there has to be a three-month period, called ‘iddat’, between the pronouncement of talaq by a husband and a lawful separation.
But ‘talaq-e-bidat’ authorises a man to do so in a single sitting.
However, over the years, a campaign against triple talaq, which experts say finds no mention in the Quran—has snowballed into a movement, riding on the woes of thousands of Muslim women whose husbands have walked off by just uttering these three words. Some took absurd routes, such as pronouncing talaq in text messages and, in recent times, on Facebook.
Read | Triple Talaq: Man divorces wife through newspaper advertisement
Like several others, Afrin has mustered the courage to approach the police against her husband who took advantage of the contentious provisions of the Muslim Personal Law.
As the debate on triple talaq, polygamy and nikal halala rages, these women from across the country are fighting a battle not just with the law board but within themselves as they find their lives weighed down by the stigma attached to divorces.
Take 24-year-old Rubina, who married an affluent man double her age, in 2015 to be able to financially support her family. But soon after marriage, he started threatening her with divorce.
“Society has completely ostracised me and people molest me or behave inappropriately when I go for job interviews,” Rubina, who has been living away from her husband, said. “I have nowhere to go.”
Some of these victims have knocked the door of the apex court seeking a stringent law against these “oppressive” practices, hoping to safeguard the future of other women and balance gender equations within the community.
Read | New York-based techie gives 'talaq' to wife in Hyderabad via WhatsApp, wife refuses to accept it
Among those seeking change is Rizwana, a 33-year-old Railways employee in Delhi. One of the petitioners in the SC against polygamy, she married Indian Air Force employee Mohammed Khalid in 2012. But Khalid, it turned out, had deceitfully married her by concealing his two previous marriages, which she discovered within a year of their marriage.
“I found two dependant cards in my husband’s bag issued by the Air Force which carried names and photographs of two women addressed as his spouse,” she said.
When Rizwana sought a divorce, Khalid held that Islam allowed him to marry without divorcing his wives.
Being a government servant may have made Rizwana financially independent, but it took away from her the right to alimony or any kind of monetary relief from her estranged husband.
“In our country, women with government jobs are not entitled to alimony. Men want to marry a woman who holds a government job, then torture her for dowry and easily divorce her without the fear of liability,” she said.
Leading a similarly onerous and painful life is 37-year-old Farzana. The Kanpur-based single mother was tortured by her husband who demanded dowry and concealed his first marriage from her.
“Some years into the marriage, I found out through neighbours that he had married earlier. It came as a shock to me but I could not do much and tried to work my marriage out for the sake of my children.
In 2009, she filed a domestic violence and maintenance case against her husband and in-laws.
“But I have not got any relief yet. I applied for divorce also which is pending before a court in Kanpur,” she said.
Shia scholars from across the country dispute the claim of orthodox Sunni clerics, saying that the Shariat, made up of writings in the Quran and Hadith, which are accounts of the Prophet’s words and actions, does not allow ‘talaq’ at one go.
The controversy, in many ways, is reminiscent of the Shah Bano case of the Eighties, which was a landmark step in Muslim women’s fight for social justice and equality—but with a disappointing end.
In 1985, the SC had decisively ruled in favour of Bano, who had sought maintenance from her husband who had divorced her. But following a backlash from orthodox Muslim groups, the then Rajiv Gandhi government diluted the order through an Act.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, gave Muslim woman the right to maintenance only for the period of iddat (about three months) after a divorce. Her relatives or the Waqf Board are to take care of her after that.