Debate, don’t dabble

If the womenfolk of this place remain without justice, none on earth can do fair dealing with this nation

Syeda Afshana
Publish Date: Nov 11 2012 12:00PM

In response to the recent landmark verdict by the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, wherein it ruled that the “power to pronounce divorce (triple Talaaq pronounced in one sitting) is not absolute or unqualified”, many reactions have come forth from different quarters.
As reported, the 23-page judgment by Justice Husnain Masoodi, reads: “Though Islam visualizes a situation where a marriage may run into rough weather for reasons beyond control of the parties to the marriage contract, and provides for a mechanism to end or dissolve the relationship in such case, yet the device of divorce is to be used as the last option when the marital relations have irretrievably broken down.” 
Apparently, the judgment sounds rational for laymen and carries a weight for being passed in a State where women from all shades of society have been the worst victims of all those troubles that are linked to an abnormal situation called ‘conflict’, either openly or in a roundabout way. In a milieu, where not only moral moorings are gradually depleting but even social character is lost, unusual problems need out-of-the-ordinary solutions. Still, simultaneously, the judgment does convey a sort of intrusion into the matter that does not fall under its domain. Had the court referred the ruling to a credible religious body before pronouncing it, the outcome would have been different.  However, this fact does not limit the judgment to be brushed aside harshly. There is a substance of debate in the ruling, which can be discussed by only those who have unbiased knowledge and understanding of religion and are committed to it. It needs credible religious scholars and institutions, having good public service record, to come out of their shells and respond sensibly because it is, of course, a very sensitive and relevant issue. A man on the street or any intellectual or any disgruntled group cannot dabble in such a discourse and generate sloganeering around it. We, as a society, have to be on the lookout for stalling any such move.
Back to judgment. Interestingly, it was given in a case filed by a lady lawyer, a literate petitioner, who had approached the court for a monthly maintenance allowance from her husband.  The details reveal that “the woman had claimed maintenance allowance after living as a couple for four years since 1997; later, according to the petition, the man had neglected her and refused to live with her. The trial court had ordered a monthly maintenance of Rs. 1,600 to the woman. The man had challenged the petition and said he had divorced his wife in 2003, but had provided no proof of divorce. He had, however, sent a written divorce while the case of maintenance was being heard. The review court had allowed the marriage to be dissolved setting aside the order of the trial court. In the present order, the high court upheld the order of the trial court for maintenance and set aside the review courts order. The order also asked the petitioner to proceed for recovery of arrears” (Daily Kashmir Times, 8 Nov-2012).
There are numerous instances around where women have been abandoned by their husbands and in-laws for a long. They either continue to live in pathetic insecurity or burn out fighting protracted legal battles. The hope for reconciliation or any dignified conclusion is absolutely missing due to lack of any credible and meaningful intervention from any quarter. Apart from this, the cases of underprivileged victims of rape, domestic violence, and harassment have emerged atypically. No unified attempt was ever made by any religious institution/body to solve the uncertainty of half-widows, not to speak of responding to it as in the case of the recent judgment where people have started shouting conspicuously.
 In a news report ‘Ulema, lawyers to study verdict: JAH’ (Daily Greater Kashmir, 5Nov-2012), the Jamiat- Ahle Hadith (JAH) has announced that “it was contemplating to formulate a Board in consultation with all the religious organizations which would address issues on women rights, divorce and related matters. It would work on grass roots level as well as on state level. To ensure its decisions are implemented, social and local influence would be used at mohalla, village and district level. Lawyers and Ulema would be part of it.” The JAH, as reported, wants to ensure limited role of courts in religious matters.
The idea sounds decent provided it is put in action with serious and sincere effort and, actually recompenses the lack of specific independent and neutral commission concerning women issues in our society.  The roping in of reliable organizations like Darul Aloom Rahimiya can also bring validity and vibrancy to such proposal.
And, if the scope of this body is broadened beyond religious matters, it can pragmatically help out in the redress of many chronic issues facing the women of Kashmir today.
Just remember, if the womenfolk of this place remain without justice, none on earth can do fair dealing with this nation for the victimized mothers and traumatized daughters fail to bring up scrupulous generations.

 (The columnist teaches at Media Education Research Centre, MERC, University of Kashmir)