These five Muslim women won a hard-fought legal battle not only for themselves but lakhs of silent sufferers from the community.
When the Supreme Court in a historic judgment on Tuesday quashed the 1,400-year-old practice of triple talaq as "gender discriminatory and violation of right to equality", five Muslim women won a hard-fought legal battle not only for themselves but lakhs of silent sufferers from the community.
These five braved threats and intimidation from radical elements within the community and even turned down requests from the Muslim law board and clerics to withdraw their petitions.
"A month before the court was to hear the petitions, some people talking to me on behalf of the Muslim board asked me to withdraw the petition from Supreme Court. They told me, 'When you are not going to gain anything from it personally why are you maligning the Muslim community?' I told them I may have lost everything but I'm fighting for other women who are going to face such a situation. They quietly went away," said 35-year-old Shayara Bano, a postgraduate hailing from Uttarakhand, who's the face of the campaign.
The mother of two endured physical and mental agony for over 10 years. She was made to undergo as many as six abortions by her husband.
The immediate effect of the verdict by the five judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar is that the marriage of four petitioners - Bano, Gulshan Parveen, Ishrat Jahan and Afreen Rehman - stood restored and they will be entitled to maintenance from their estranged husbands. The fifth - Farha Faiz - is a lawyer fighting for Muslim women's rights.
After the verdict, Bano said, "This is a happy moment for all Muslim women in India. This is a historic day for India." The verdict assumes more significance at a time when the instant divorce custom had become tech-savvy, being pronounced through phone calls, emails, SMSes and WhatsApp messages.
While Jahan had been divorced over the phone, Rehman and Parveen had received mails. Faiz succeeded in convincing the court that Muslim board AIMPLB is only a registered society and what its members say cannot be taken as final word. The board had argued that the SC had no power to touch personal laws of the Muslim community.
"They have self-drafted aims and objectives. They have no right to decide on the personal laws of the community. They are not the guardians of the Muslims in this country. The Supreme Court is the actual guardian of the Constitution," she argued.
The five women seized the opportunity when a two-judge bench in October 2015 ordered setting up of a special bench to consider if practices like triple talaq, polygamy and nikah halala were resulting in gender discrimination in the Muslim community and if these should not be considered a violation of fundamental rights under the Constitution and international covenants. All of them made themselves a party in the matter and urged the special bench to hear them too.
"It is a huge victory for Muslim women facing discrimination. Though two judges were against abolition of triple talaq, they too favoured an injunction regarding use of the mode of divorce till Parliament enacted legislation.
The overall spirit should be taken note of, "said advocate V K Biju, who represented Ishrat Jahan. Jahan, a 30-year-old West Bengal resident had joined the fight after her husband of 15 years rang her up in April 2015 from Dubai, uttered "talaq, talaq, talaq" and disconnected the call.
Another petitioner, 25-year-old Afreen Rehman from Jaipur got married in 2014 after finding a match through a matrimonial portal. However, her in-laws started harassing her mentally and physically for dowry two months later. After asking her to leave, her husband sent her a letter announcing a divorce.
Yet another aggrieved petitioner was Gulshan Parveen, a postgraduate in English literature. Her husband sent her a talaqnama after subjecting her to domestic violence for dowry over two years. Suddenly, she and her two-year-old son Ridan were homeless. Gulshan received the talaqnama on a `10 stamp paper. The judgment by the five-judge bench was not unanimous, but by a 3-2 majority.
While Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice S Abdul Nazeer held triple talaq to be part of fundamental right to religion of Muslims, justices Kurian Joseph, RF Nariman and UU Lalit said the practice violated the fundamental right of Muslim women as they are subjected to arbitrary irrevocable divorce.
Khehar and Nazeer, however, said the practice needed to be stopped till Parliament enacted a substitute law.