No longer forced to live in fear and uncertainty, a new bill will put power back in the hands of married Muslim women and is the first step in an upward trend of empowerment.
At the end of July, the Parliament of India approved a new bill that banned and criminalised the practice of “The Triple Talaq”. This practice, also known as “Talaq-i-biddat” allowed Muslim men to be instantly divorced after repeating the word “talaq” three times.
Traditionally, an instant divorce was accomplished by uttering the word out loud, but technological advancements have allowed for the use of other means including phone calls, emails, or text messages. Most recently, a woman in the Karnataka state was given a triple talaq via the mobile chat application whatsapp by her husband who had left for Dubai and never returned. The approval of the new bill, referred to as the Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage bill, allowed this woman to bring her complaint to the police, who plan to initiate legal proceedings against her husband of twenty years. If convicted, he could face up to three years imprisonment.
Although India is following in the footsteps of Muslim countries that have also banned the practice (Egypt, The United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to name a few) the aspect of imposing penalties on individuals who do not comply is unprecedented. This is arguably the most controversial aspect of the bill and has some women’s rights groups who once unanimously supported the abolition of The Triple Talaq deeply divided. According to Bharatiya Muslim MahilaAndolan (BMMA), the implementation of criminal measures can put an end to the occurrence of the practice in Muslim communities for good. On the other hand, Bebaak Collective believes that placing an offending man in prison can keep him from providing financial compensation to his children and former wife, which renders them even more vulnerable. However, it goes without saying that a man who is willing to instantly dissolve his marriage and subsequently expel his wife from his household most likely has no intention of continuing to provide for her anyway. Therefore, it is only fair that a Muslim woman be given an equal voice in decisions involving her marriage and have the opportunity to take part in any divorce proceedings in a courtroom. The Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill is historic because it ensures that this will happen.
When attempting to truly understand the impact that an instant divorce can have on a woman, two factors in particular must be taken into account: literacy and age at the time of marriage. According to census data, Muslim communities had the highest rates of illiteracy among religious communities in India (42%), and the rates of illiteracy among Muslim women were nearly 11% higher than Muslim men (48% versus 37%). A lack of an education greatly inhibits future socioeconomic opportunities, which increases the likelihood of a woman being completely dependent upon her husband for survival. Instances of child marriage also contribute to illiteracy rates, decreased socioeconomic opportunities, and complete dependence upon husbands. The prevalence of these factors suggests that most women would be in no position to suddenly step into the breadwinner role and provide for their children post-instant divorce, especially if they did not have family to rely on. The criminalisation of The Triple Talaq was an absolutely necessary move in order to make certain that women who never had the chance to receive an education or have no way to make a living are protected and not forced to fend for themselves.
Because of the new bill, women who have already been victims of The Triple Talaq are also protected and can now file claims against their former husbands. According to the BMMA, five women have already visited their office since the bill was approved to seek legal advice in order to do so. It is suspected that these women are a fraction of individuals that now have the power to ameliorate the past abuses of instant divorce and home eviction. Even better, women who are currently married may feel a boosted sense of empowerment since they no longer have to live with the perpetual fear of being abandoned with little or no basis.
India’s criminalisation of The Triple Talaq is historic. However, it is merely a step in the journey to provide Muslim women with the tools they need to have an equal voice in Indian society. Literacy levels must increase and there must be a renewed focus on addressing instances of domestic violence within households. India’s efforts in this area- which are undoubtedly positive- must not stop here.