Source: The Guardian
Talaq, talaq, talaq: for more than a decade Arshiya feared the words like some dark incantation.
When she caught her husband talking online to other women, he would snarl at her: “If you interfere too much in my life, I’ll give you talaq.”
Another time she found intimate messages from a lover on his phone. Again, Arshiya says he shouted her down: “You doubt me? I’ll give you talaq.”
Frowned upon even by hardline Muslims, and banned in Pakistan, Bangladesh and across the Islamic world, the practice of talaq-ul-bidat – or “triple talaq” – persists in India, home to the world’s third-largest Muslim population.
It grants men the power to dissolve a marriage with a single word, “talaq”, said three times. Increasingly, the word is emailed or texted.
“It is a totally unilateral, one-sided, instant form of divorce, and uttered by men,” says Zakia Soman, an activist from Gujarat state. “The wife need not be present. She need not even be aware.”
Now India’s supreme court looks set to declare triple talaq, and another law forcing women who re-marry their husbands to first sleep with another man, unconstitutional. Banning the custom would free up to 90 million Muslim women in the country from a potential trapdoor divorce.
But Soman, whose Muslim reform group is fighting the case, wants something even more radical: “To tell the ulema [Muslim scholars], and the whole world, that ordinary Muslim women are fully capable of reading the Qur’an, understanding the Qur’an, interpreting the Qur’an – and obtaining justice for themselves.”
Arshiya’s husband did finally try to divorce her. She never even heard him say the words. “One day, suddenly, he told me he had given me talaq. He said, ‘I gave it to you four days earlier’.”
“I literally begged him,” she says. “I went down on my knees and said, if you want to have affairs, go, just don’t throw me out of the house. Where will I go with my child? I don’t have a steady job – what will I do?”
Because her husband chose an Islamic divorce, rather than one under India’s more progressive secular law, Arshiya was also denied the third of his salary she would be legally due in alimony.
The 45-year-old, now working up to 16 hours a day as a teacher in south-west Delhi, is trying to have her husband’s divorce overturned, and pursuing him for the meagre compensation Indian courts have carved out for triple talaq victims.
She doesn’t want to get back together. The legal action is about making a point. “I want justice,” she says. “The question now isn’t money. I was not his servant. I was not his slave, who he kept in the house for 12 years and then threw out.”