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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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How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

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The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

Also Read: Social Media in India: Understanding The Dynamics of ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’

Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

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First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

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An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)