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India: Shayara Bano seeks to ban the unruly practice of Muslim ‘Taalaq’ through Supreme Court

A woman from Uttarakhand has petitioned SC to ban triple Talaq, Polygamy and nikah halala

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Shayara Bano- Benarnews
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A soft-spoken woman, Shayara Bano is an unlikely poster girl for feminism.

But the 35-year-old’s petition in India’s Supreme Court seeking a ban on a practice that is outlawed in several countries – whereby a Muslim man can divorce his wife just by uttering the word “talaq (divorce)” three times – has put her at the forefront of a movement seeking to bring equal rights to women in a largely male-dominated Muslim society.

Triple talaq- www.secularism.org.uk
Triple talaq- www.secularism.org.uk

“I am no crusader. I just don’t want more women to undergo the pain and torture that I have had to face,” Bano told BenarNews from her parental house in Terrai in north India’s Uttarakhand state, about 250 km (155 miles) from Delhi.

In her petition filed in March, Bano sought a complete ban on triple talaq, polygamy and nikah halala – where a divorced woman has to marry another man and then divorce him to remarry her former husband.

Bano said these practices should be deemed illegal and unconstitutional as they violate Articles 14 (equality before law), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, sex, place of birth), 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) and 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) of the Constitution.

In India, where nearly 180 million Muslims constitute the largest minority in the country, there is no single civil law code for all of its 1.25 billion citizens. Muslim personal law is governed by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which has resisted attempts to modernize its ostensibly Sharia-based laws and has vowed to challenge Bano’s petition.

According to Tahir Mahmood, former chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, the practice of tripletalaq is an aberration that finds no mention in the Quran or Sharia. It is banned or not practiced in several Muslim countries, including Algeria, Iran, Malaysia, Tunisia, Turkey and Pakistan.

Even as Muslim rights activists and women’s groups from across the country are voicing support for Bano, the Supreme Court has given the Indian government and the AIMPLB until early May to respond her petition.

Dreams crushed

Bano, who holds a master’s degree in sociology, said she dreamed of becoming a teacher until she was deemed a suitable match for Rizwan Ahmed, a real estate agent from Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh state, in 2002.

“He crushed all my dreams,” Bano said. “He wouldn’t even let me step out of the house, leave alone take up a job.”

Following the birth of her son, Irfan, 13, and daughter Muskan, 11, Bano said her husband forced her to undergo seven abortions. “This obviously took a toll on my health.”

In April 2015, Bano’s parents brought her, along with her two children, back to their house to help her recuperate.

“Three months later, my husband came. He took both my kids with him, saying he will come back for me. Since then, his phone has been switched off. I haven’t heard from him or my children,” Bano said.

On Oct. 10, Bano received a letter by post. “In it, my husband had written the sentence, ‘I hereby divorce you’ three times. The letter was signed by him and two other men, who are considered as witnesses to the divorce,” she said.

“I am worried for my children. I don’t know where or how they are. If they are going to school or not, if they are eating properly or not,” Bano said, as she broke down.

While she has been called “un-Islamic” by some sections of the Muslim society for challenging age-old practices of the religion, Bano is aware her “fight ahead is a long and hard one,” but she is ready for it.

“I will not back down. What is happening to Muslim women here is wrong. Things need to change now,” she said.

Demand for codified Muslim personal law

In a 2013 survey of 10 Indian states by the Mumbai-based Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a group working to empower Muslim women, an overwhelming majority wanted Muslim personal law to be codified.

Of the 4,320 Muslim women interviewed, 92.1 percent said they wanted the practice of unilateral oral triple talaq abolished. About 93 percent wanted a mandatory arbitration period before divorce. More than 91 percent were against polygamy.

Last November, the group released a report chronicling some 100 cases of triple talaq.

BMMA founder Zakia Soman said that over the years, the group had come across “thousands of cases of triple talaq,” some even by way of Facebook and Skype, rendering the women destitute.

Last year, a high-level government committee set up to review the status of women in India recommended a ban on the practice of triple talaq and polygamy, saying such practices render “wives extremely vulnerable and insecure regarding their marital status.”

The Supreme Court has directed the government to submit this report, which has not been made public, on the next date of hearing. An exact date has yet to be fixed by the apex court.

Muslim board against change

The AIMPLB, however, has made clear it wants no changes to the Muslim personal law.

On April 18, the AIMPLB unanimously passed a resolution with called for “non-interference by courts and government in matters of Muslim personal law,” board member Zafaryab Jilani told reporters, adding that the resolution has been sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Asma Zehra, another AIMPLB member, was quoted by BBC that Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was focusing on the issue of triple talaq “basically because they want to interfere in our religion” so they can introduce a uniform civil code.

Back in Uttarakhand, Bano is mentally preparing herself for the legal battle ahead. “Right now, my only focus is to fight for my rights and my children.

“I have undertaken a mission that requires courage. I get that courage whenever I think of my children. I am certain change is just around the corner.”(Benar News)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)