Five years after Supreme Court’s triple talaq verdict, petitioners living life as ‘half-divorcees’

Technically married but practically divorced, the women say their husbands haven’t accepted them and they cannot remarry either

Updated - August 14, 2022 09:33 am IST

Published - August 13, 2022 10:46 pm IST - New Delhi

Shayara Bano’s petition against instant talaq by husband Rizwan Ahmed snowballed into the landmark Supreme Court verdict. File photo: Special Arrangement

Shayara Bano’s petition against instant talaq by husband Rizwan Ahmed snowballed into the landmark Supreme Court verdict. File photo: Special Arrangement

Five years after the Supreme Court's five-judge Bench under Chief Justice J.S. Khehar invalidated instant triple talaq in August 2017, the women petitioners continue to live a life of half-divorcees. Technically still married, practically divorced, they enjoy no conjugal rights nor receive any regular maintenance from the estranged husbands. Practically abandoned, the women cannot remarry in the absence of a legally valid divorce. After the verdict, none of the men were visited by law enforcement bodies and told to take back their wives. Further, no arrests could be made for giving instant triple talaq as the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 came into force long after pronouncement of instant talaq.

A cloud of confusion hangs in the air as the women are uncertain of their eligibility for a fresh marriage. The apex court, it may be recalled, invalidated instant triple talaq in the Shayara Bano versus the Union of India case while refraining from commenting on the state of their marriages directly. The women had gone to court seeking redress as the victims of instant triple talaq. However, after the court had set aside Talaq-e-Biddat or instant triple talaq, the husbands of the petitioners failed to accept them back in marriage. Many of the men, meanwhile, have gone on to get married again, and sired children. Even as they toil through life, none of the women have opted to exercise khula, a woman’s inalienable right to divorce, either.

Says Shayara Bano whose petition against instant talaq by husband Rizwan Ahmed snowballed into the landmark verdict, "My husband established no contact to restore marriage after the judgment. Legally, I am still married to him.”

She has not sought to end marriage through khula either. “I am fighting for the custody of my children. My son is 18, daughter 15. I only get to see them in court. I want to speak to them at least on phone but it is not possible. For two years due to the pandemic, there were only online hearings. So I have not seen them since then. My husband though has remarried.” After the historic verdict, Ms. Bano was made the Vice-President of the Uttarkhand Women’s Commission, a position she continues to hold. At one time, she had to even leave her parental place in Kashipur due to social outrage over her decision.

Says Ishrat Jahan, one of the petitioners whose marriage was said to have ended when her Dubai-based husband Murtaza Ansari pronounced talaq on phone, “Everybody welcomed the Supreme Court judgment but what did I gain? Nothing. No alimony, no maintenance. My husband got married again then offered to take me back. His family even denies that he said talaq, talaq, talaq. I cannot now go back to him. He has not sent me a legally valid talaqnama either nor have I taken divorce though khula.”

In this state of half-divorce, Ms. Jahan, who joined the BJP Minority Morcha as the national secretary a few years ago, cannot hope to marry again. “I am not going to get married again. That ship has sailed. I am looking after my children. They are in different classes, V to XII. My husband has got married. He has a child.”

Ms. Jahan has tried her hand at politics. She joined politics before the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. “I joined politics because I needed a goal in life but people said so many things after I joined the BJP that it became difficult for me to walk in my lane at one time. Now, it is fine. Nobody disturbs me,” says Ms. Jahan taking a little break from her sewing machine, her only source of earning.

Similar is the case of two other petitioners, Gulshan Parveen and Aafreen Rehman. Technically their marriage subsists but practically, they are divorced, the court’s ruling notwithstanding.

Says Zakia Soman, co-founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, “The marriages of the petitioners subsist but the husbands do not want to reconcile. If the women want to remarry, they will have to do khula. All the burden is on women. However, it was not a battle in vain as instances of triple talaq have come down since the verdict. Historically, these women are heroines.”

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