Muslim women have long been a victim of the loopholes in the marriage laws within the Sharia. The Sunday Guardian spoke to a few such women who are struggling with their finances, with little or no support, as their husbands manipulate the law to get their own way.
It has been 12 years since Fatima (name changed) decided that she had had enough of her husband and his family’s constant demand for dowry. After hardly a year of marriage, the mental torture became too much. Her in-laws would berate her for not bringing in enough money and would harass her about not wanting to live with her husband when she protested against the treatment. Soon, she was forced to return to her brother’s house in Lucknow. Her husband, who works at a college in New Delhi, has not yet divorced Fatima. In fact, since 2006, he has not met her even once.
“My husband has said in court that he wishes to divorce me. However, he has not been able to give one reason why he wishes to go ahead with it. He remarried around three years ago, despite being married to me already,” said Fatima.
When asked whether she would like to reconcile with her husband, Fatima said: “If I am kept in a different house far away from my in-laws, with only my husband having access to me, I will consider reconciliation. In that case, how he takes care of two families is not my problem. I was not asked for permission when he decided to marry a second time. However, my main fight is for maintenance, which is guaranteed to me by the Sharia and the law of the land. I am, frankly, not looking forward to any samjhauta (compromise).”
Fatima’s case has been pending in the Lucknow District Court for over a decade and the financial expenses are being borne by Fatima’s brother.
25-year-old Faiza, an orphan, lives with her aunt in UP. Her ex-husband, a butcher, would regularly beat her and force himself upon her. “I had no rights in that house. I was just a maid in that family. Since I was an orphan, no one could really look into the kind of family I was marrying into. I wish I had never been married. After a year of marriage, I was divorced from my husband. Many women do not want a divorce even after they are subjected to torture at their husband’s place, but I am grateful to be out of there.” says Faiza.
Sufiya often travels to Lucknow, where she negotiates with lawyers to fight her case, but she says her husband manages to pull strings and keep from her the money she is entitled to.
Sufiya was also an orphan and her brothers got her married to a man, who ran a coaching centre in Lucknow. Sufiya would often catch her husband flirting with the girls who came to study there. When she would protest, he would abuse her physically, even while she was pregnant. He restricted her movement; she was not allowed to meet people. A concerned neighbour then asked her to meet Shaista Amber (the president of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board), and Sufiya addressed a letter to her and had it delivered through her neighbour. For fear of her husband discovering what she was up to, she wrote the letter locked up in the bathroom. When Shaista received the letter and learnt about Sufiya’s ordeal, she immediately informed the police and rescued the girl. Meanwhile, Sufiya’s husband had divorced her. “He told my brother over the phone that he was giving me talaq. He did not even consult me,” she said.
Shaista Amber intervened and wanted to arrange another nikah for them, but people said that since the couple had been through a talaq “they needed to perform halala” (according to some interpretations of Sharia, a divorced woman must consummate a new marriage with another man and divorce him before she can remarry her ex-husband). Shaista was strongly against that. However, she ensured that the couple got back together.
“Things settled down for a while and we lived together like husband and wife,” Sufiya says. “He was supposed to pay Rs 5,000 per month for me and my children’s expenses, which he did for about four months before throwing us out.” Sufiya now lives in Bijnor. She is raising three children — a boy of 14 and two girls aged 12 and 8 — without maintenance from her husband or any help from her brothers.
She often travels to Lucknow, where she negotiates with lawyers to fight her case, but she says her husband manages to pull strings and keep from her the money she is entitled to.
Shaista Amber explained that the Sharia has a provision for the upkeep of children dependent on a divorcee woman. “It is a question of fundamental rights, and in such cases, even the courts can intervene,” she said. “A Muslim woman herself, whether she remarries or not, is not entitled to money from her ex-husband after a talaq. She is expected to make use of the mehr money and her portion of her family’s inheritance to live on for the rest of her life. In the Sharia, there is also the concept of Bayt-al-mal, which is a kind of collective fund that is responsible for the upkeep of widows, divorcees and orphans. Even the Wakf ought to help divorcees but that organisation is corrupt itself. They distribute donations among themselves,” she says.
Sufiya is now pursuing a BA degree in the hope of getting a job afterwards so that she may earn and support her family herself. It has been 14 years that her husband has left her, and now she says she is tired of fighting and dealing with lawyers.
“Whenever I tell my story, I feel like I am reliving those times. I have spoken to the media on several occasions. But nothing has changed for me,” she says.