Reform! reform! reform!
Nazma Bibi, Orissa
Nazma Bibi is a 26-year-old Muslim woman from Bhadrak, Orissa. On July 3, 2003, under the influence of alcohol and as several members of the community looked on, Nazma’s husband, Mohammed Seru beat her and pronounced talaq, talaq, talaq. However, soon after his drunken declaration of triple talaq, Seru repented, and the couple wanted to get together again and re-settle at Nazma’s parents’ home since she is their only daughter.
The couple then approached the maulvi, the religious priest of Dhamra, to get his holy interpretation/judgement on the incident. After hearing both Nazma and her husband’s versions of the case, the maulvi decreed that the talaq was invalid since the husband had uttered the words ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ in a drunken state.
But the community refused to accept the maulvi’s judgement declaring that the maulvi was ‘not qualified to give such a judgement’. By then the issue had been commandeered by a powerful local leader, Bari, who clearly did not appreciate ‘outside’ (i.e. the court or women’s organisations) interference. Bari claimed that his ‘NGO’ had settled 100 cases (all of which went against the women).
Mohammed Seru’s family then approached another maulvi, of Bhadrak, for further consultation and advice. He said that the talaq was valid and if at all Nazma wanted to stay with Seru, she had to first go through halala (i.e. marry another man, consummate that marriage and then go through a divorce) before returning to her first husband.
However, Nazma rejected the idea of halala and was forced to abandon her home, taking shelter at a short stay home, Ashiyana, in the town itself. Nazma’s husband then proceeded to a family court at Cuttack where he prayed for restoration of his conjugal rights. In a verdict given on December 13, 2003, the family court dismissed the talaq as illegal and ordered for restoration of the marriage as well as Nazma and Seru’s conjugal life as a couple.
But the local Muslim community to which Nazma belonged refused to accept the court order and was adamant in their opposition. The couple then cut all ties with immediate relatives and found a place outside the community where they stayed together for three months. Three months later, when the couple visited Nazma’s mother at Kantabania, a village some miles away from Bhadrak, some persons from the Muslim community physically assaulted and manhandled Seru.
In their continuing quest for justice, the couple ultimately approached the National Commission for Women (NCW). Two members of the NCW went to Bhadrak on May 21, 2004, and instructed both the collector and SP of Bhadrak to ensure that the victim couple could live together. Nafisa Hassan, a minority member of the commission, declared that since what the couple had undergone was not talaq, they should be allowed to stay in the woman’s parental house and police protection be provided to them. But after this measure of relief had been provided to the couple, an altercation between members of the NCW and local leader, Bari, further aggravated the situation. Members of the NCW stated that it was the people’s fundamental right to live wherever they wanted; the police could get an outside mufti to decide the case if necessary. Bari threatened the NCW, saying that they had no right to interfere in matters of the community whose members would conduct themselves as they saw fit. Bari stipulated that the couple could not continue to stay in Nazma’s parental home. As a result, community members adopted a more rigid stance and in spite of a few sincere efforts by the police and local administration the couple could not stay together for a while.
The community blatantly used compulsion and force to separate the couple. Nazma then had to face social boycott by being denied water and fire for everyday use. Water connections were cut off, her child was not allowed to go to school, and her father was prevented from earning his livelihood – he was a rickshaw-puller in Bhadrak.
It was at this stage that persons from the Centre for Women’s Studies of Utkal University as well as the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) intervened. It was their members, Muslim and other women who offered solidarity to Nazma and her family, who carried out negotiations locally. This solidarity at the grassroots compelled the local administration to provide Nazma with water and ensure that her child was no longer prevented from attending school.
On July 25, 2004, AIDWA and Centre for Women’s Studies took the issue further by organising a widely attended seminar on ‘Dialogue on Talaq’ at the Utkal University campus. The seminar passed a unanimous resolution to a) receive a delegation of prominent (and locally chosen) dignitaries to visit Bhadrak and dialogue with the local community by August 3, 2004; b) demand that the state government provide Nazma with financial support. In response to the second demand, Rs. 20,000 has already been released for Nazma’s use.
(Report from AIDWA, an all India women’s organisation).
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