This 33-year-old Muslim woman from Lucknow says she has defied her family only once — when she registered a court case against her husband for giving her instant triple talaq. Now, this beautician is sure she will go against her family wishes once more, on May 6, when she votes for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. “The Modi government has dared to raise its voice against the practice of triple talaq, when no other party was talking about it,” says the woman who campaigned for the Congress in the last elections.
Barely 22 days into her marriage in 2014, the woman was served a notice of triple talaq by her husband. “No reason, no justification was given. I had then decided to drag my husband to the court. Earlier my family was against me, but now even they want him to compensate for my sufferings.”
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“I had done door-to-door campaigning for Congress’ Rita Bahuguna Joshi in the last elections. But what have they done for us? At least, the BJP has tried to bring our predicament into the forefront,” she says. “From LPG connections to pension schemes, they have done a lot for us,” she adds. Asked if she or any of her friends or family have received any of the above-mentioned benefits, she says, “No. But so what, I have read about all that this government has done. I will definitely vote for them.”
Just like her, 26-year-old Nishat Fatima is determined to vote for the BJP this time because of the Triple Talaq Bill. Nishat, a mother of two, was given instant triple talaq on phone after five years of marriage. Stuck in a legal maze of procedures, Nishat tweeted to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath seeking help. She was also part of a seminar on triple talaq organised by the BJP and presided over by Lucknow’s Governor Ram Naik. “I’ll vote for BJP. At least they thought about it (banning the practice of instant triple talaq), when no other party did,” she says. Nishat, who worked as a counselor in a local college earlier, is today dependent on her father for her expenses as she cannot work because of her small children.
Nishat is clear that she wants her husband punished, but quickly adds: “I am willing to reconcile if he comes back to me and bears all expenses.”
Riding on its pro-Hindutva image, the BJP aims to repeat its 2014 sweep, when it won 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. As per 2011 Census, Muslims form at least 20 per cent of UP’s population. The Triple Talaq Bill is the party’s trump card to woo this chunk. Last December, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had mentioned that approximately 248 cases of instant triple talaq were reported after the SC verdict. He added that though a detailed data of such cases was not available, as per the information, Uttar Pradesh ranked the highest.
Lucknow Muslim women tread carefully on Triple Talaq
However, unlike the two women, several Muslim women that indianexpress.com spoke to in Lucknow seemed unaware of even the practice of instant triple talaq, or talaq-e-biddat, in their community. They shared nervous laughs, tried to avert gaze or change the topic of discussion whenever the issue was brought up. The few who were ready to talk about it said they did not know that the practice has been revoked by the Supreme Court in December 2018, but blamed the BJP for interfering in their religion by making it an offence punishable with up to three years of imprisonment.
Thirty-five-year-old Shamima Bibi of Khurram Nagar fiddled with her sari and stared at the ground when asked about triple talaq. “I know nothing about this. Nothing of this sort has happened in our family,” she says, sharing a nervous giggle with a relative. When prodded further on issues faced by Muslim community, she points to lack of electricity in her area, bringing the discussion to a quick end.
Down the road from Shamima’s house, 23-year-old Farzana Ahmed was walking her mother to a local hospital. A recent graduate, Farzana feels the Modi govt is “hijacking the cause and politicising it for its own gain.” “What is the point of criminalising it when the husband doesn’t want to live with me anyway. Will compelling him to stay because of the fear of law, serve any purpose?”
Marriage is next on the cards for Farzana. “If my husband decides to divorce me, I will have to abide by it. Allah, and not any political party, will decide the next course of action.” She also accused the Modi government of creating “fissures in the society.” “Our issues are education, scholarship, but this government talks only about fights between Hindus and Muslims. The previous government (Akhilesh Yadav) provided laptops for students, gave us concessions and hence my vote will be for them,” she said. While pursuing her graduation, Farzana got a scholarship as well as a laptop under the SP government.
Sufiya Rahman, a 60-year-old in Dali Ganj, who was trying to put her grandson to sleep, went stiff on the mention of triple talaq. “This is something that is personal to us. Nobody has the right to interfere between the husband and wife. If any of them is wrong, Allah will punish them. Hum kaun hote hai miya-biwi ke beech mein dakhl deke, kisi ko saza dene wale (Who are we to interfere between husband and wife, or to punish anyone?).”
She, however, mentions, “education of girls” as one of the reasons the issue is blowing up. “Pehle talaq kahan hota tha. Pehle ki ladkiyan sahan karleti thi. (When did talaq happen before? Women earlier would tolerate everything). But the educated women today have zero patience. Girls should know how to tactfully deal with their husbands. No government or party should meddle in the affairs.”
Some women feel the BJP is misusing the sensitive issue. Tahira Hasan, a social activist from Lucknow who is also national vice-president of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said the emphasis of the Bill is misplaced. “The focus should not be on sending the man to jail but on strengthening the Muslim woman financially. Did the government take any input from the community before forming the Bill?” she asked.
Questioning how the husband would support his wife if he is imprisoned for triple talaq, retired IRS officer Parveen Talha said the BJP’s “agenda is against Muslim community.” “Muslims are dead scared about the BJP coming into power. Upper middle class Muslim community or those in power are spared from the torture. However, there is a sense of fear among people. Look at what happened in Rajasthan, where the man was lynched for having a Muslim name and his video was circulated,” she said.
Meanwhile, Shaista Amber, director of All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board in Lucknow, said none of the governements have ever cared about the Muslims. “No government has done anything for Muslims or Muslim women. None of the political parties including BJP and Congress has been able to give relief to Muslims.” When asked about the board’s stand on triple talaq, she said, “Just like the Hindu Marriage Act, we have been contending Muslims too should have a separate law that would cover marital and family disputes. Both the parties in a marriage should be counselled. The fear of talaq-e-biddat in women should be uprooted and the fear to utter talaq should be invoked in men.”