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Mumbai: Armed with law, Muslim women still in search of justice

Despite the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019, the practice of triple talaq goes on unabated with Muslim women finding little support from police. Several women that The Indian Express spoke to were receiving no maintenance from their estranged husbands, suffered from depression and bore the responsibility of their children.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala |
Updated: December 30, 2019 11:05:57 am
triple talaq, triple talaq law, talaq, Muslim personal law, domestic violence, Muslim Women, Mumbai, Mumbai city news, Indian Express Shabnam Shaikh says she was subjected to domestic violence during her entire pregnancy. Finally, she returned to her parents’ house, a tiny room in Govandi’s slum, to deliver her son in 2018. (Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

At 24, Shabnam Shaikh has decided never to marry again. With a one-and-half-year-old son, no job, and a long-drawn legal battle ahead, she knows she cannot afford “to make another mistake by trusting a man”. “Also I can’t keep making rounds of the police station,” she says as she cuddles her infant in her lap. Last year, her husband uttered talaq thrice over the phone; months later, he came to meet her and repeated, “Talaq talaq talaq”. This year, soon after the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 was enacted, she visited two police stations in Mumbai to register a complaint, but was turned away without registering a first information report (FIR).

ALSO READ | After Triple Talaq law — ‘The harassment has not stopped but has just changed’

Delays in FIR, no arrests

Take Shabnam’s case: Her’s was a love marriage in November 2017, despite her father’s strong opposition. Her husband Ateeq Ahmed runs a paan shop in Nagpada. In dowry, she took a cupboard and bed. A month after marriage she was pregnant. Three months after marriage, she claims, Ateeq allegedly started beating her. “He would beat me without thinking of my pregnancy.”

triple talaq, triple talaq law, talaq, Muslim personal law, domestic violence, Muslim Women, Mumbai, Mumbai city news, Indian Express Kamrunnissa Ansari (55) married a man 20 years older than her in 2012. Her husband lived with her for one and half months before leaving for Kuwait as a labourer. (Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

During her entire pregnancy, she claims she was subjected to domestic violence. Finally, she returned to her parents’ house, a tiny room in Govandi’s Shivaji Nagar slum to deliver her son Ibrahim in 2018. Her memories of her marriage are far from rosy. “Last year on Eid, he slapped me and dropped me home. On September 5, he called me on mobile and said ‘talaq talaq talaq’,” she says.

Her father Shah Mohammed took her to Shivaji Nagar police station, where a non-cognisable report on domestic violence was taken. Nothing happened for days. Her husband visited Shabnam in October and repeated talaq thrice again.

Over the next few months she made rounds of Shivaji Nagar police. “They referred me to Nagpada police, and Nagpada police would suggest I approach the women’s commission,” Shabnam says.

This year, finally in June, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), an organisation that supports Muslim women, intervened. An FIR of triple talaq, domestic violence and dowry was registered at Shivaji Nagar police station. The case is before a magistrate court in Kurla now.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 makes triple talaq a criminal offence with imprisonment extending up to three years. The law states, “No person accused of an offence punishable under this Act shall be released on bail unless the magistrate, on an application filed by the accused and after hearing the married Muslim woman upon whom talaq is pronounced, is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for granting bail to such person.”

But Ahmed is yet to face arrest.

“He gives me no maintenance,” Shabnam, a Class VIII drop-out, says. Her elder brother and father support her. “But for how long will my brother keep me?” she says.

While the law has been enacted, implementation remains poor. “Normally police’s first reaction is that this is a family matter. Many Muslim women are not literate enough to know their rights. On several occasions police asked the women to show them the Act or tell them the sections under which case will be registered,” said advocate Ruksar Memon, who is handling the triple talaq case of Jannat Patel, first case that was registered after the Muslim Women Act came into existence.

Lack of counselling support

Jannat Patel (32) was seven months pregnant when her husband called her up and said ‘talaq’ thrice over a nasty fight. He later dropped her a text message, it read: ‘talaq talaq talaq’. It was November 2018. An ordinance banning triple talaq was promulgated just a month ago. Patel went to Mumbra police station where officials refused to register an FIR. “They asked me to get the copy of the ordinance. I made multiple trips to the station everyday,” she said.

She sank into depression. Until then she claims her pregnancy was risk-free. But the stress took its toll, and within a month she had to be rushed to hospital for premature delivery. “This was not how I imagined my firstborn to be delivered. He remained in the intensive care unit for a week. My marriage had broken. And I had no one, no counsellor or police to support me,” Patel said.

With a newborn, no job and dependent on her maternal family, she says she retreated into a shell and would only offer namaaz. It took her months to recover.

“Not just in triple talaq, but women facing any kind of violence need counselling. NGOs are working towards it but there are so many cases. Patel lives in Mumbra which makes access to counsel her difficult,” said activist Noor Jahan Safia. She adds, “Counselling component is available in family courts during pre-litigation stage. Since this is a criminal case, the police or magistrate court is not mandated to counsel.”

Patel had married in 2015, her husband lived in Abu Dhabi for two years before returning to India. “He started having an affair with a woman in Vikhroli. I tried to stop him but he decided to divorce me,” she claims. The Mumbra resident’s first visit to police station in pregnancy went in vain. She later wrote to the DCP, who instructed the local police to register a case. Eight months after she first visited Mumbra police station, an FIR was registered. It was the first case to be registered across India hours after the Act was enacted.

Patel now has a nine-month-old baby. She is pursuing a teacher’s training course to get employed. She claims she “counsels herself” to remain confident and bring up a baby on her own.

“My parents support me as much as they can. But the community laughs at me, they say I am mad that I am approaching court. It can take years to get justice.”

Memon says her husband’s bail application was rejected by the magistrate court, after which he has approached the High Court. His mother and sister were granted bail by the magistrate. All three have been booked for domestic violence, dowry and the husband faces additional charge of triple talaq. But he has still not been arrested. Jannat claims he lives with another woman.

“In this case we decided to fight for Jannat’s case pro-bono. But several Muslim women who cannot afford legal fees are given government aid. Since the government does not pay them well, legal aid counsels eventually lose interest in such cases,” Memon said.

Policing matters

Manjunath Singe, DCP (Zone VIII), said soon after the Act was enacted the Mumbai Police commissioner called a meeting of senior officers and discussed the need to register FIR in each case of triple talaq.

The procedure, another police officer said, is to first record a statement of the woman and send a notice to the husband. Police stations have been instructed to always file an FIR. They then investigate and look for evidences. Arrest, one officer said, is only made if there are strong charges against the accused husband. “Say if there is also dowry and domestic violence case combined with triple talaq,” an officer said.

Social activists, however, said the procedure remains on paper. When contacted, Mumbai police spokesperson Pranay Ashok said, “I am not sure how many cases of triple talaq have been registered in Mumbai. I know one in Thane. I will have to look into what procedure police follows. But we have received no complaint of refusal to file FIR,” he said.

Singe said, “Our officers don’t send women back without registering a case. They counsel and register FIR after thorough investigation.” However, two police stations that come under his jurisdiction, Vakola and BKC, have two separate cases where women faced delays in FIR. Singe claimed he was unaware of both the cases.

One such case is of Kamrunnissa Ansari (55) who married a man 20 years older than her in 2012. “It was my second marriage, but it was hardly a marriage,” she says. Her husband lived with her for one and half months before leaving for Kuwait as a labourer. He only gave her Rs 3,000 before leaving. She remained in contact with him over limited calls that he made to India over next six years.

In September 2018, he texted ‘talaq’ thrice from Kuwait.

“We were having multiple fights over the phone. I was made to do all the house chores. I was kept like a domestic help by my in-laws and one day he decided he didn’t want me as his wife,” she said.

She claims her case was registered by Vakola police after “exerting pressure” on cops. “But the investigating officer has stopped answering my phone call. There is no progress in the case,” she claims.

While implementation of the Act is an issue, several activists also question the intent of the law. “The law somehow also makes domestic disputes a criminal offence. It does not look at protecting Muslim women, but targets Muslim men. If there was uniformity, the law would have been acceptable. With present government, the intentions don’t seem right,” said Sabah Khan, from NGO Parcham.

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