Outside the cramped lawyer’s chamber on the Supreme Court premises where Shayara Bano was sitting, journalists were interviewing every Muslim woman willing to share their stories. Bano, the main petitioner in the triple talaq case, didn’t know many of them were being mistaken for her. The 36-year-old, now an MBA student, had become a key face of Muslim women’s fight for justice. Her face gave away no signs of the recent victory, that came after a fight of more than a year. But she was not at a loss for words. “I am feeling very good. I hugged my family when the verdict came, they congratulated me, told me it was a historic day for Muslim women in India. We have been vindicated —not just I, for all those like me, even those who were not present, this is for all of them,” she told The Indian Express.
On the other side of the room, her brother Arshad Ali was busy taking calls from TV channels seeking interviews with her. For Shayara’s father Iqbal Ahmed, though, the verdict was just one small victory. “Now that triple talaq has been termed illegal, we have to get a similar judgment for nikah halala [which requires a divorced woman to first remarry another man if her former husband is willing to take her back] and polygamy. Then we have to wage a battle for codification of Muslim personal law in all matters concerning gender justice, from property rights to maintenance,” he said.
Iqbal, 58, an accountant in the Army, and his family live in a cantonment town in Kashipur tehsil of Uttarakhand. “I have seen women from my community falling victim to these practices in my hometown of Allahabad, but it was only when my own daughter was subject to triple talaq that I decided to challenge the practice,” he said.
Shayara was divorced by her husband of 15 years in December 2015 through a talaqnama that she received by post in her parents’ home. Two months later she moved the Supreme Court arguing “the Muslim husband’s right to ask for divorce by uttering talaq three times in a row is completely unilateral, unguided, absolute and has no rationale. It cannot be identified with Muslim culture and is not part of Muslim law.”
From a woman who came back to Kashipur battling infections after multiple abortions and depression, she is now a first-year student of MBA at Teerthanker Mahaveer University in Moradabad. And she does not want to marry. “I will become independent, build a career. Marriage is just not on my mind right now,” she said.
Iqbal and his wife Feroza Begum had always been clear that their daughter should never go back to her former husband. Shayara, however, vacillated since her two children, a boy and a girl, were in the custody of her husband Rizwan Ahmed, an Allahabad-based property dealer. Her father said the issue was laid to rest when Rizwan remarried a few months after Shayara filed her petition. In Allahabad, Rizwan was not at his home, which he is said to rent at Rs 3,000, and was unreachable by phone. His 14-year-old son was offering his prayers, his 12-year-old daughter sat with a book refusing to speak, and his second wife was apparently not in. Neighbours said Rizwan had been down with fever. “When he comes back, we will let you know. His phone has been switched off all day,” said Mashoor Ullah, another tenant in the building.
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