A lot of women dream of a ‘happily ever after,’ the kind that we see in movies and read in novels. Mehrunissa Bano* was no different. Bano married Ashfaq Hussaini* in 2008. The newly-wed 21-year-old woman was brimming with excitement and nervousness as she was about to embark on, what she believed, would be a joyous journey. She couldn’t have been more off the mark.
“It was Allah and my mother’s prayers that kept me alive,” she said as she looked up reverently. “He just said three words, ‘Talaq, talaq, talaq,’ and my life changed. It shouldn’t be so easy for him to move on. Can he give me back the time I spent with him? Can he make me the person I was before I met him? I only hope and pray now that no other girl goes through this.”
There is a raging nationwide debate on the practice of Triple Talaq where opinions are divided. While the government believes the practice of talaq and polygamy impact the status of Muslim women, there are others from within the Muslim community who feel it is a religious practice that cannot be done away with. While it remains to be seen what the Supreme Court will say about the practice in the upcoming hearings, Bano’s views are simple.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with the practice of Triple Talaq,” she said casually. “There was a problem with the way my husband handled the talaq. There was a problem with the way the Qazi went about the procedure in my case. If these people followed what is given in the Sharia law properly, there would have been no issue. Triple Talaq when done as per the rules is not wrong.”
Bano was in an abusive marriage where being beaten and threatened were all part and parcel of the union.
“I was alive, but that was about it,” Bano said as she reminisced about what she wishes she could brush off as a terrible nightmare. “They treated me like a prisoner. They took all my cash, clothes and jewellery. They denied me food and water. I would beg and plead but they would not give in. Rather, they would threaten me saying they would kill me or that my husband would get married to someone else.”
Elaborating on the kind of mental and physical trauma she underwent, Bano spoke of how she would be locked in the house all the time and wouldn’t even get the chance to speak to her family. She wasn’t permitted to interact with other people and was forced to do everything Hussaini said. If not, she was ‘punished’ by Hussaini with repeated lashings with a belt.
“One day, I just couldn’t handle it any longer,” she said, shutting her eyes tightly as the memory came back to her. “I wanted to escape so I jumped from my house on the second floor. There was an asbestos sheet on the first floor, I landed there safely and the people on the ground floor helped me get down.”
Once on the ground, she didn’t waste a moment. She recounted how she got in an auto rickshaw and went straight to her mother’s house. When asked if she felt any fear, she shrugged. “What did I have to fear? My life was hell either way, this was my chance at getting away; getting a better life. And I took that leap of faith and it paid off.”
Bano’s brother, Ali Akbar*, filed a complaint against Hussaini’s family on charges of harassment. Hussaini allegedly gave an apology at the Vepery police station where he promised Akbar that he would return Bano’s 30 sovereigns of gold that were given to her for her wedding, in about three to four months.
Those months turned into years, but nothing was ever returned. After this mediation though, Bano went back to give her marriage another chance. But as they say, old habits die hard. She was back to being tortured. Back to being humiliated.
“There were days where I would just sit and cry,” she said, her eyes welling up slightly, but she didn’t let a tear drop, her anger getting the better of her. “I have had my husband and his mother-in-law pour kerosene on me and threaten to set me ablaze. I was so petrified as I knew they were capable of doing it that I went and locked myself in the bathroom.”
In the midst of all this, Bano got pregnant. Her eyes lit up for a moment, a slow smile spread across her face for the first time since we had begun interacting. “My child made me want to stay alive,” she said. “But that happiness did not last either because I don’t know what my husband’s family gave me to drink one day, I had to be rushed to the hospital and they had to operate on me when I was three months pregnant. I lost my child and with that another reason to live.”
While she was mourning the loss of her child, Hussaini sent a letter to Akbar’s house, which they did not see as they were not in town. It was the talaqnama that claimed that the Qazi had accepted Hussaini’s divorce to Bano.
“It was preposterous,” said Akbar. “Hussaini never gave us a proper reason as to why he was divorcing my sister, which is mandatory under Sharia law. Further, the Qazi clearly didn’t realise that it was his duty to have both parties present while taking such a decision!”
Akbar said Bano was not given her maintenance as prescribed by Sharia law when a man divorces his wife. Further, he said Hussaini married another woman and is leading his life without having glanced back to see how his first wife was doing.
“She stays with my mother an my family,” he said. “But what if she did not have us? Where would she have gone? What would she have done? Worse still, the letter from the Qazi is considered the final word. That should not be the case. It is not right as we are not able to challenge the decision in court now because of that one letter.”
A lot of time has passed now since these incidents occurred, but have left a lasting impact on the 30-year-old Bano and her loved ones. She stays indoors most of the time. Cooking is one of her hobbies and vegetable fried rice is among her favourite dishes. A devout Muslim, she prays and spends a lot of her time reading the Quran. She says it soothes her, fills her with a sense of calm and strength.
Currently, her mother is looking out for someone for her to get married to so that she can start over. “My daughter has gone through too much,” she said. “These people dressed so well, spoke so well, we never thought they would turn out like this. All I want for her now is a good man who will teach her how to be happy again.”
Bano smiled wistfully as her mother spoke and all she said was “Insha Allah!”
(*All names changed to protect identity)
NOTE: Featured image courtesy: The Indian Express