By George Poikayil
07th May 2017
“I hereby declare that I have pronounced, ‘Talaq... Talaq... Talaq’ to my wife, Shameem Begum (27),” signed off 33-year old Javed S in an agreement dated April 4, 2017. It was a day of emancipation for Shameem, a seamstress. (Both names changed.)
“For four years, I have been trying and I had to literally fall at his feet to get the Talaq,” said Shameem. Javed agreed to it after she had signed another agreement foregoing all her rights to maintenance and giving up the Rs 1.5 Lakh she paid as the ‘Maher’ or dowry to him.
“I just wanted to get out of the pit. I didn’t care for the money,” she said. Hers is but one example of how Muslim men attempt to circumvent the law and deny women their rights.
Born in a poor family and brought up by a single mother, Shameem had to sell 10 cents of her meagre landholding to raise the Rs 1.5 Lakh and buy 10 sovereigns (80g) of gold ornaments. But the marriage lasted hardly a week. “Javed was addicted to drugs and liquor. He would come home intoxicated and abuse me,” she said. “The profanities he used to mouth clog my ears, and he beat me for no reason,” said Shameem.
What shocked her most was when she found out her husband was accused of sodomising a boy. “His family and my uncles were cheating me. They knew all along what kind of a man Javed was. In my society, women have no voice,” she said.
A resident of Nileshwar, Javed worked with an event management group where he helped build tents and Shamianas for wedding parties. But he played truant too often. “One day, his co-workers came looking for him and he hid in the bathroom. I did not know he was hiding and told them he was in the bathroom,” she said. “I still shudder when I think of the thrashing I got that night.”
She walked out of the marriage after a week. Her mother and younger sister stood by her. But he used to telephone her and abuse her.
“Sometimes, he gives the phone to his friends to abuse me,” Shameem said.
She filed two cases against him; one seeking maintenance and the second alleging domestic violence and pestering calls. But the calls never stopped. He continued to abuse her with impunity. Sick of him, she asked for a divorce.
“But he told me he will never give me Talaq and allow me to get married and live happily.” Then she approached the president of her mosque committee in Kanhangad. “The president’s reply stunned me,” she said. “He told me the committee cannot get the divorce on a woman’s word.”
When Shameem, a commerce graduate and a diploma holder in fashion technology, got a new marriage proposal, Javed got more belligerent. “He became determined not to divorce me. My lawyers had to use the two cases against him to bring him to the negotiation table,” she said.
‘Why Give Talaq When We Can Beat The Law!’
In Kasargod and Kannur, “no intelligent Muslim man will give Talaq to his wife”, said senior lawyer C Sukkur, the former public prosecutor and an officer-bearer of the Kerala Lawyer’s Forum affiliated to the Indian Union Muslim League.
He said the Muslim (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 gave quite a lot of rights to the divorced. At the time of divorce, a Muslim woman is entitled to “a reasonable and fair provision” and maintenance from her former husband; he should also provide for the children till they are two years old; and to top it, all the properties given to her by anybody should be returned to her.
“The Kerala High Court has ruled the maintenance for 15 years should be paid in a lump sum at the time of divorce,” Sukkur said. To circumvent the law and deny women their rights, Muslim men refrain from giving Talaq, he said.
“It does not affect them in any way. Men will go on to marry and live happily as polygamy is allowed in Muslim society. But because polyandry is illegal, women get stuck in life,” he said.
For women to get legally divorced, they have to rely on the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act that came into effect in 1939. “It will take years for them to get a divorce from court,” he said.
Women such as Shameem would rather forego their rights to get a divorce from an abusive marriage, Sukkur said. She is getting married again this month, though. Suhaida Ashraf (name changed), a principal of an international school, is running from pillar to post for maintenance, her right enshrined in section 3 of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. Her husband of two years refused to give her Talaq unless she signed an agreement foregoing maintenance. “I did not have a choice but to sign the agreement to exit the marriage,” she said.
After the divorce, she moved the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court seeking maintenance from her former husband. “But the court rejected my plea because of the agreement,” she said.