The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) is slated to file a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court to abolish polygamy and nikah halala after a similar petition led to Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Ordinance in September, which prohibits triple talaq.
In its latest survey covering 250 women, titled ‘Status of Women in Polygamous Marriages and Need for Legal Protection’, the organisation, supported by the Maharashtra State Commission for Women, found that 84 per cent Muslim women believed polygamy — multiple marriages by a man — must be abolished and 73 per cent wanted it to become a punishable offence on the lines of countries like Turkey, Tunisia, Canada, and Germany.
The survey also found that in 72 per cent cases, wife’s permission was not taken before second marriage.
The study also found that only 9 per cent husbands of women surveyed had studied beyond graduation, indicating the low educational levels linked with the social practice. As many as 29 per cent women, who were first wives, and 18 per cent women, who were second wives, in polygamous marriages were minor. Of the total surveyed, 42 per cent had no income.
“A lot of these women have no employment or education… they sacrifice because of their children,” said Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of BMMA. The survey showed that while 29 per cent women did approach a qazi to protest, 45 per cent decided to tolerate the second marriage of their husband because they had no other home to go to.
The petition by BMMA is slated to be filed by January. Advocate Shriya Maini said, “Our earlier petition asked to abolish triple talaq, polygamy, and halala. The SC took up the matter of triple talaq and passed order in our favour. This second petition now focuses on the remaining two issues.” There is also another petition filed in SC on the same matter by an individual, she added.
Halala is a practice where a Muslim woman has to marry and consumate her marriage with a second person if she wants to remarry her first husband. “The practice started to punish men who would give triple talaq in haste without thinking. But it has become a tool to exploit women emotionally and financially,” Maini added.
According to the survey, 50 per cent women complained of depression, suicidal tendencies due to the social practice.
In only 40 per cent cases of polygamy, the first wife was receiving maintenance by husband while 44 per cent had to start working to earn a living after their husband remarried.
In a public hearing for Muslim women on Tuesday in Goregaon, 35-year-old Khushnuma Ahmed, who is now fighting a case against her Ajmer-based husband, alleged she is the 29th wife of her husband, aged 72. “For four months, I was tortured emotionally and blackmailed by him. I did not know any law that could help me until my aunt rescued me from Ajmer and brought me home in Mumbai,” she said.
She claims her husband threatened to sell her in Dubai for sex trafficking. Her case is currently being heard by a Shariah court run by the BMMA in Bandra.
In another case with the Shariah court, Shaistha Ansari married a 29-year-old in Jogeshwari four years ago and was informed after marriage that she is the third wife. Now with a three-year-old daughter, she lives with her parents fighting a case against her in-laws. “I realised my husband only married to have a child. His younger brother has two wives,” Ansari said.
According to Qazi Zubeda Khatoon, who also handles the Shariah court, with government ordinance banning triple talaq, cases of polygamy have increased. The cases of mental torture have also risen as husband are not allowed to give instant triple talaq.