By Ziya Us Salam
February 2, 2018
Interview with Ishrat Jahan, one of the key petitioners in the triple Talaq case, who recently joined the BJP
IN 2014, Ishrat Jahan’s husband divorced her by uttering the word “Talaq” thrice over the phone from Dubai, and later he married another woman. Ishrat Jahan, along with four other women, filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the practice of instant triple Talaq, and in August 2017 a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar ruled in their favour and declared instant triple Talaq unconstitutional.
Even as there was widespread celebration among activists and liberal sections of society, things have not changed much for Ishrat Jahan. She continues to struggle as a single parent with little support. Despite the fact that her divorce stood annulled after the Supreme Court judgment, the court did not clarify on her marital status, that is whether her marriage subsisted or whether her husband was duty-bound to renew it after instant triple Talaq was set aside. “Why should I go back to my husband after the judgment? He may be ready to take me back, but I do not want to go back to him. I would have considered making a compromise had he not married again. But he married another woman soon after divorcing me. I am not agreeable to be the second wife of my husband,” Ishrat Jahan said in a telephonic interview from Kolkata.
She was in the news again recently because of reports that she had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ishrat Jahan confirmed that she was a BJP member and promised to work for Muslim women in particular and women in general. Although she was welcomed with open arms by local BJP leaders, and is said to be one of the options the party is considering as its female face among the largest minority, she has neither had a meeting with any top Central leader nor been offered any help in her fight with her former husband. She has not even got back custody of two of her children who, she claims, she could not keep with her owing to financial constraints. Forced to take up tailoring to make ends meet, Ishrat Jahan continues to be financially feeble and politically pretty unaware. Ask her about the much-talked-about Muslim Women’s Bill which was passed by the Lok Sabha following the initiative of the ruling party, and all she can say is that she supports the Bill but is unaware of its details, or whether it will really strengthen the case of Muslim women or if there are enough safeguards for children. Similarly, when she is informed about the lynching of Muslims by those with a soft corner for Hindutva forces, Ishrat Jahan claims she knows little. “I have been so caught up with my life, trying to earn my bread that I do not know what all has happened. All I can say is everybody should have a right to live with dignity, man or woman, Muslim or Hindu.”
Excerpts from the interview:
You are a single woman, stitching clothes for a living. What made you join politics?
After my divorce, I had to make a beginning. I have no family to fall back upon. My sister does help me out, but other than that there is nobody. All this time when I was fighting against my husband, there was very little support for me except from an activist-lawyer friend. All along I was fighting single-handedly. For how long can one fight? However, things have changed a little since the Supreme Court judgment.
The media started following me. Everybody became interested in my story. I felt that for once I could speak the truth about my marriage and divorce. Besides the media, even political parties, started showing concern and interest. I was approached by the Congress party too.
Then why did you join the BJP?
I joined the BJP because they had been coming to meet me for over four months. I had also gone to many of their meetings. After Modiji brought up the Muslim Women’s Bill, I thought he was serious about doing something for Muslim women who have been similarly victimised through triple Talaq. So, when the local BJP leaders asked me to formally join them, I could not say no. It is a new beginning for me. Let’s see how it goes. I need everybody’s prayers and good wishes.
But the Bill has not been passed in the Rajya Sabha. They argue that it rules out reconciliation.
I am not aware of all the finer clauses of the Bill. I am still learning. But why should there not be jail for a husband who throws out his wife by just uttering three words?
After the Supreme Court judgment, instant triple Talaq is not valid in law. The marriage subsists. If the husband is sent to jail, does it not rule out reconciliation?
If the husband and wife want to be husband and wife again, who can stop them? In my case, I had filed a case under Section 498 [of the Indian Penal Code], but when my husband promised to be good to me in future, and swore by the Quran, I took back the case. I even paid for his bail. But what did I get in return?
One understands your problem. However, if the husband is in jail for three years, who will pay for children’s education? Also, who will pay maintenance to the wife? Do you realise the Bill is also against the spirit of the verses of the Quran?
I am not so well-read. I will not do anything that I am not allowed to do by the Quran. But this Bill is brought with the intention of helping Muslim women, and act as a warning to husbands who give divorce in anger. It is still under discussion. So let’s see how it shapes out.
That still does not answer my question about children....
That is all I know. I will have to consult my leaders on this. I plan to work for all Muslim women who are caught in unhappy marriages, violent marriages, or have been divorced through instant triple Talaq.
It is said you are being considered for the BJP ticket in the by-elections.
I have heard that too, but where is the money to contest elections? I can barely meet my own needs. I have not been given any financial help by the party. If I have to contest elections, the party will have to finance my campaign. Personally, I am ready to do whatever the party requires me to.
What about your children? Are you able to meet their financial requirements? Or are they with your husband?
Two kids are with me. Two are with my husband as I cannot look after them, and he sends no maintenance. I work hard, but I do not earn enough.
Since you joined the BJP, videos have gone viral wherein it is alleged that your husband divorced you because you had a relationship with another man. How do you handle all this?
People can say what they want. All I can say is there is no truth to such allegations. My husband gave me triple Talaq on phone from Dubai. He was not even living here. How can he be a witness to the alleged affair?
But this mud-slinging could have been avoided if you had not entered politics. Do you regret joining politics?
Even before I joined the BJP, there was a social boycott. But I remember when I was fighting the battle in the Supreme Court; our so-called society was not there to support me. No Muslim leader of any Jamaat offered to help. Today, I do not bother about the society. But, yes, sometimes I am affected particularly when the media get my daughter who stays with her father to speak ill of me. She was a little girl when we parted; today she is tutored by her father.
Any specific plan to work for women?
I plan to work for all Muslim women, particularly those thrown out after triple Talaq. I will go door to door to seek their support and suggestions. I also want to work for all women of whatever religion or region or caste. Every woman needs education and a job. There should be an end to the exploitation of women. But I have not been given any specific responsibility by the party yet. I can speak more clearly only after I am assigned a role in the party.
Are you not afraid that you could end up as a pawn in the hands of politicians?
I do not think so. I have fought many battles alone. If I could fight then, I can fight now too. Rather, I am looking forward to politics. It is new for me, but I have to make a beginning.