CHENNAI: Passport authorities' insistence that Muslim women, even after dissolution of marriage as per Sharia law, should furnish court decrees to get passport for their children, has been playing havoc with the lives of many single women, feel family law experts and counsellors.
While the separation process initiated by Muslim men under the personal law gets over in a jiffy, with him pronouncing talaq thrice, the equivalent 'khula' process initiated by Muslim women seeking divorce is delayed, as it requires 'talaq' by the husband. Also, while the allied issues such as custody of children are completed orally under Sharia law, the passport authorities insist court decrees.
"Plenty of women want to move abroad to study, remarry, move back with family or for employment opportunities. But, because of their minor children, they are held back," says advocate Bader Sayeed, a former MLA and family law expert. "Even to apply for a job, higher studies or remarry, you need a certificate from a kazi or court decree, which is not a part of the Islamic law," she said. Tasneem Sulieman's story is a case in point. Brought up in Bruneibefore marriage, she has been trying to move out of India with her two-year-old baby. Though it has been more than a year since she left her husband, a court decree giving her the custody of the child is yet to come through. Without this decree, passport authorities are not willing to issue her child a passport.
Tasneem who grew up in Brunei was married to a man based in Chennai when she was 19. She decided to apply for a 'khula' through a local kazi. Her husband, however, refused to turn up or send a letter pronouncing the word thrice.
Tasneem had to approach a jurisdictional court and get divorce under the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939, after a lot of delays. "I'm not fluent in English, and am forced to live alone here in Chennai. I am unable to move to Brunei with my baby, who is yet to be given a passport," she said.
While passport authorities demand a formal written custody decree, her husband had given her the custody only orally. Tasneem now does not know where her husband is, or how to explain her urgency to the court and passport authorities.
Badar Sayeed's query under the provisions of the RTI Act revealed that passport authorities are supposed to treat both talaq and a civil court decree equally. The regional passport office here replied that they required a court decree or talaq issued by chief kazi. To another query, the office said it does not maintain details of divorced Muslim women or their children who have applied for passports.
Kulsum, married of at the age of 16, decided to leave her abusive husband after more than six years of marriage. However, her 'khula' proceedings took more than two years to complete.
"In cases where talaq had already been pronounced, if the wife approaches court for a decree it becomes difficult because it requires the husband who by then has moved on or lost contact," said another advocate.
"We are not saying leave the customary law. Ensure that after talaq is pronounced, the couple approaches a court of law and legalises it on paper too," said Sayeed.
(Some names have been changed to protect identity).