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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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WhatsApp Announces 20 Teams To Curb Fake News Globally

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation

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WhatsApp
WhatsApp selects 20 teams to curb fake news globally, including India. Pixabay

Facebook-owned WhatsApp on Tuesday announced that it has selected 20 research teams worldwide – including experts from India and those of Indian origin — who will work towards how misinformation spreads and what additional steps the mobile messaging platform could take to curb fake news.

Shakuntala Banaji from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Anushi Agrawal and Nihal Passanha from Bengaluru-based media and arts collective “Maraa” and Ramnath Bhat from LSE have been selected for the paper titled “WhatsApp Vigilantes? WhatsApp messages and mob violence in India”.

The research examines the ways in which WhatsApp users understand and find solutions to the spate of “WhatsApp lynchings” that has killed over 30 people so far.

The Indian government has also directed WhatsApp to take necessary remedial measures to prevent proliferation of fake and, at times, motivated/sensational messages on its platform.

Among others selected were Vineet Kumar from Ranchi-headquartered Cyber Peace Foundation (principal investigator), Amrita Choudhary, President of the Delhi-based non-profit Cyber Café Association of India (CCAOI) and Anand Raje from Cyber Peace Foundation.

They will work as a team on the paper titled “Digital literacy and impact of misinformation on emerging digital societies”.

P.N. Vasanti from Centre for Media Studies in New Delhi woll work withS. Shyam Sundar, The Pennsylvania State University (Principal Investigator) to examine the role of content modality in vulnerability to misinformation, under the topic titled “Seeing is Believing: Is Video Modality More Powerful in Spreading Fake News?”

WhatsApp had issued a call for papers in July this year and received proposals from over 600 research teams around the world.

“Each of the 20 research teams will receive up to $50,000 for their project (for a total of $1 million),” WhatsApp said in a statement.

Lipika Kamra from O.P. Jindal Global University and Philippa Williams from the Queen Mary University of London (Principal Investigator) will examine the role of WhatsApp in everyday political conversations in India, in the context of India’s social media ecosystem.

According to Mrinalini Rao, lead researcher at WhatsApp, the platform cares deeply about the safety of its over 1.5 billion monthly active users globally and over 200 million users in India.

whatsapp
WhatsApp on a smartphone device. Pixabay

“We appreciate the opportunity to learn from these international experts about how we can continue to help address the impact of misinformation,” Rao said.

“These studies will help us build upon recent changes we have made within WhatsApp and support broad education campaigns to help keep people safe,” she added.

The recipients are from countries including Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Singapore, Spain, the UK and US.

WhatsApp said it is hosting them in California this week so they can hear from product leaders about how it builds its product.

“Given the nature of private messaging – where 90 per cent of the messages sent are between two people and group sizes are strictly limited – our focus remains on educating and empowering users and proactively tackling abuse,” said the company.

WhatsApp recently implemented a “forward label” to inform users when they received a message that was not originally written by their friend or loved one. To tackle abuse, WhatApp has also set a limit on how many forwards can be sent.

In India, WhatsApp has partnered with the Digital Empowerment Foundation to train community leaders in several states on how to address misinformation.

Also Read- Facebook Blocks Accounts Engaged in Malicious Activities

“We are also running ads in several languages — in print, online, and on over 100 radio stations — amounting to the largest public education campaign on misinformation anywhere in the world,” the company noted.

Sayan Banerjee from University of Essex, Srinjoy Bose from University of New South Wales and Robert A. Johns from University of Essex will study “Misinformation in Diverse Societies, Political Behaviour & Good Governance”.

Santosh Vijaykumar from Northumbria University, Arun Nair from Health Systems Research India Initiative and Venkat Chilukuri, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology are part of the team that will study “Misinformation Vulnerabilities among Elderly during Disease Outbreaks”. (IANS)