Divorced from reality
July 3, 2003, Sher Mohammad in an inebriated state said talaq thrice to his wife Najma. Later, when he realised his mistake, the couple decided to continue living together. The village community, however, objected; threw out the husband from the village and ostracised the wife. The issue, which has raised a public outcry, remains unsolved even a year later. Bibhuti Misra reports.

Smriti Kak talks to functionaries of the NCW and social activists about the Najma case

Fatal attraction of ‘crazy’ women
Passionate, fiery and wild in bed.... She may sound like the dream date, but for the men attracted to ‘crazy’ women, the reality can be more bombshell than blonde, says Charlotte Williamson




Divorced from reality

On July 3, 2003, Sher Mohammad in an inebriated state said talaq thrice to his wife Najma. Later, when he realised his mistake, the couple decided to continue living together. The village community, however, objected; threw out the husband from the village and ostracised the wife. The issue, which has raised a public outcry, remains unsolved even a year later. Bibhuti Misra reports.

Najma: Ostracised by her village
Najma: Ostracised by her village

Miyan bibi razi phir bhi taang adaaye kazi. This twisted version of the well-known saying Miyan bibi razi to kya karega kazi (If the man and woman are willing then what is the role of the priest?) sums up the unfortunate situation Najma and Sher Mohammad find themselves in today.

Sher Mohammad, who belongs to Nanga Mohalla village in Bhadrak district of Orissa, had married Najma, the only daughter of Mumtaj and Nasima Biwi of Kantabania village, in 1992. Sher Mohammad stayed at his in-laws’ place after marriage as ghar jamai as Najma had no other sibling. Life was going smoothly for them and Najma bore him four children in 11 years. But on July 3, 2003, Sher Mohammad had a drunken brawl with his wife and in an inebriated state shouted talaq thrice. Later when the effect of liquor wore off, he realised his mistake and with mutual consent, the couple continued to live together. "Neither my mother nor I heard him shout talaq since we were inside the house and it was not clear. But the villagers told me that he had given me talaq and we couldn’t stay together. But my husband said he was angry and drunk and he did not remember what he had said," says a woebegone Najma

The neighbours were not happy. They had heard the man shout talaq and for them the marriage had come to an end; hence they considered it immoral and illegal for the couple to stay together. Led by the mohalla chief Bhallu Sardar, they roughed up Sher Mohammad and drove him out of the village, much to the chagrin of his wife. "We pleaded with them to solve the problem but Bhallu told us that it could not be done immediately and might take even a year," say both Najma and her mother.

The two women were left with no alternative but to approach a maulana of the nearby Dhamnagar with the help of an NGO, Ashiana. After hearing the case, the maulana ruled that the divorce was not valid, as talaq had been uttered in an inebriated state. So the couple were back in Kantabania village as husband and wife.

That should have been the end of the unfortunate case; but it was not. After a fortnight, Bhallu, this time accompanied by a few ruffians, showed up again. Says Nasima Biwi, "They abused us and forcibly took away our son-in-law, saying that since talaq had taken place it was a sin for Sher and Najma to live together."

The community, represented by Chauda Mohalla Muslim Jamaat got into the act, and moral policing started in right earnest. Its president Shaikh Abdul Bari referred the matter to Mufti Shaikh Qasim of Dhamnagar, who ruled that the talaq was valid.

Meanwhile, the issue was taken up by the National Commission for Women (NCW) and the State Commission for Women (SCW)

On November 6, 2003, an agreement was signed in the presence of the Chairperson, SCW, and the Chauda Jamaat was entrusted the responsibility of finding a solution for the problem. But the Jamaat issued a four-point fatwa that decreed that the couple could not live together as they were no longer man and wife. Sher was debarred from entering the village. He could, however, send money to his family through some emissary and he could meet his children only if his parents brought them to him and later took them back to the mother.

The matter was taken to family court in Cuttack, which ruled that the couple could live together. The villagers, however, were unrelenting.

The NCW sent a five-member inquiry team on May 21 to the village. The team tried to reason with the people of the community that talaq uttered in a drunken state was not valid, but the community stuck to its position.

But all this ‘outside’ interference only enraged the Jamaat, which felt that such interference by outside agencies in matters concerning Muslim Personal Law would not be tolerated. They took out a silent procession in protest on June 3

The SP, Mahendra Pratap, tried to solve the problem too but he was handed a nolle prosequi. The police, which has registered cases against some persons, is wary of taking them up as it fears that that might fuel communal tension.

What is the way out for Najma?

Local Muslim leaders say that she could exercise the option of halala, which means she has to marry another person who would issue talaq to her; only then could she remarry her husband. However Najma is unwilling to do this and, in desperation, she has threatened to commit suicide if she is not allowed to stay with her husband. "I will give poison to my children and take poison myself if I am harassed further," she says.

There was talk of referring the matter to a third ‘mufti’ and seek his opinion. But Najma says that it could be referred to Muslim organisations at the national level but again bring varying opinions from different people. The matter remains unsolved for almost a year now. Ostracised from the village and not allowed to draw water from the village well, Najma is losing all hope. "My husband wants to live with us and take care of the family but is not allowed to. Our sufferings have been increasing every day," she laments, desperation showing on her face. Tapasi Praharaj of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association has got a hand-pump installed in her house to help the family tide over the water problem. The Red Cross has given them Rs 1000 and even her husband had sent Rs 500 through an emissary. The family is blessed with love and tenderness but the community is bent on fanning hatred and ripping the unit apart.

Abdul Bari, a key player of the Jamaat, does not agree that the community is playing a villainous role. "All the outside interference has complicated the matter. In religious matters, interference is highly undesirable. It hurts our religious sentiments. Nafisa Hussain, who was in the NCW team, said that she had read Muslim Law; but I doubt it. We will sort it out according to our edicts. We are not interested in making it a law and order problem."

But till now nobody has a clue as to how the problem should be sorted out. And what about Sher Mohammad whose drunken indiscretion resulted in a nightmare for him and his family? He is under tremendous pressure and is scared after being ‘punished’ by the villagers for living in ‘sin’ with his wife after talaq. He lives in his own village and tries to help his children by sending whatever he earns from doing odd jobs. But his wife is all sympathy for him: "He wants to be with us. I can understand his agony."


Smriti Kak talks to functionaries of the NCW and social activists about the Najma case

Brinda Karat: ‘Clergy has been quiet’
Brinda Karat: ‘Clergy has been quiet’

With religion as its alibi, the stoic clergy has refused to accept reasoning. So Sher and his wife Najma are now knocking on the portals of justice seeking the restoration of their conjugal rights.

"The conditions under which Sher divorced his wife are not valid. Islam does not permit this. There is no evidence of a divorce being legal under such circumstances", says Nafisa Hussain, Member, National Commission for Women (NCW). Hussain adds, "The wife and her family are ready to live with Sher, he himself has admitted that he wants to stay with his wife, they have the fatwa to the effect, yet some members of the society have created a furore". So what gives the Chauda Mohalla Muslim Jamaat under the leadership of Abdul Bari, who is neither a religious leader nor a witness to the so-called talaq, the right to deny Najma and Sher their right to live together?

"There are two points of view. One view says that divorce even if under the influence of liquor is valid while the other does not recognise it. It is a difference of opinion" explains S.Q.R. Illyasi, spokesperson of the Muslim Personal Law Board.

Nandita Das: ‘Double standards must go’
Nandita Das: ‘Double standards must go’

Though he is reluctant to takes sides, he adds: "We are hopeful that we will resolve the issue in the working committee meeting on July 4."

Bari, who claims to be working for what "is best for the community," dismisses the issue of talaq, as merely between an issue between a husband and wife, instead it is, he says, "an issue between two groups".

"This is barbaric. Insufferable, how can the clergy in the name of religion take decisions, which are inimical to basic human rights?" questions Brinda Karat of the All-India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA).

Enraged with the religious groups denying women their human rights, she says: "We have been constantly asking the Muslim Personal Law Board to issue a statement allowing Najma and her husband to live as man and wife. They have been conspicuously quiet."

Questioning their role, Karat asks, "it is terrible that they are reluctant to listen to voices of reason within their own community. If they do not listen to reason then what do they listen to? What section of the community do they cater to and on what basis do they claim to represent the entire community?"

There are more such questions. "The Muslim Personal Law Board has to agree that under the influence of alcohol nothing in Islam is valid, not even a good deed. Why should they therefore not take immediate steps to validate Najma's stand? They are already behind time in preparing a more reasonable and effective nikahnama. There is a clear bias towards women and it shows", said a noted academician.

While both the NCW and the AIDWA have taken up the issue and have agreed to meet the cost of litigation, the organisations are more concerned about the bias towards women, which is being perpetrated under the guise of religious law. "It is time for some serious introspection. The case is one of total insensitivity, false sense of morality and lack of basic honesty. The double standards will just have to go," says actor and social activist Nandita Das.

And while society is led to rethink, Poornima Advani, Chairperson of the NCW, is waiting for the Supreme Court to give "direction and decision". Referring to the Najma case as a "landmark," she says, "It is a case that highlights the violation of the human rights of a woman. We are going to approach the Supreme Court and seek a judgement that re-institutes rights of a woman."

Advani sums up by saying, "There is an urgent need to re-look the codes of the Muslim Personal Laws Board. How can a woman be forced to marry another man when she chooses to stay with her husband?"


Fatal attraction of ‘crazy’ women

Passionate, fiery and wild in bed.... She may sound like the dream date, but for the men attracted to ‘crazy’ women, the reality can be more bombshell than blonde, says Charlotte Williamson

CONTRARY to popular belief, women don’t hold the monopoly on constantly falling for the same type of bad lover. Men make repeat mistakes, too, and overwhelmingly they make them over the original prototype on bad girlfriend: the Betty Blue. Influenced by Beatrice Dalle’s defining cinematic moment, and wielding a PhD in mind play, the Betty Blue can be identified by the unhinged, wild-eyed look in her lovely eyes, and her tendencies to scream her lungs out, hurl blunt objects around, and turn up on the doorstep demanding exhausting and imaginative sex. At 4 am. "Sane men love crazy girls for the same reason Adam bit into the apple we want what we should not have," says Ashkan Karbasfrooshan, founder of male relationship website AskMen.com. `Men think that crazy girls will go to greater lengths to make us happy. Sad, but true.’ Sex psychologist Dr Petra Boynton agrees. `From an early age men are taught that this sort of pouting, petulant woman is sexy and a trophy girlfriend.

So how does the Betty Blue get away with it? Two ways: good looks and the promise of wild sex. The looks are self-explanatory - although in combination with the craziness, they are more alluring still, essentially because traditionally, crazy women are not sexually inhibited. It goes with the territory.

William, a thirtysomething marketing executive, met Lizzie at a mutual friend’s party, and it was wild from the start. `There was an immediate chemistry between us. She told me I was cute and asked me to go with her to the bathroom,’ he recalls. `We kissed and fooled around but she was looking for sex and I was not in the mood. But I liked being pursued. And me not wanting to have sex intrigued her, and made her want to see me again.’ Which she did - in fact William and Lizzie dated for more than a year. Pretty soon, though, Lizzie’s volatile tendencies started troubling William as much as they excited him. `She would fly off the handle at the strangest things. It was as if she enjoyed the confrontations and wanted to live out her Taylor-Burton fantasies. She liked nothing more than getting me to raise my voice, which is not in my nature.’ Indeed, it appears that a certain type of passive, paternal man is particularly attracted to the Betty Blue. Michael, a 29-year-old city lawyer, shares a similar easy-going temperament with William. Unsurprising, then, that he ended up with card-carrying Betty Blue disciple, Zoe. `We met through a mutual friend who warned me she had a track record, but to be honest that was part of the appeal. The fact that she was a real looker helped.’ They went clubbing on their first date. `We ended up having sex on the stairs of a church at dawn. I was pleased I’d had the guts to do that.’ A lot of the appeal of the Betty Blue for the more placid male is that she encourages him to live closer to the edge than he would otherwise.

Michael and Zoe lived three hours apart, which initially suited him fine. We’d go two weeks without seeing each other and then spend two days in bed,’ he recalls. And then Zoe started phoning at all hours. `She would call me late at night, crying and saying she was missing me terribly. This was after our third date. As time went on it became seriously annoying.’ Although, when pushed, Michael admits he was flattered at the same time. `Any guy who’s got a beautiful woman in tears on the phone 200 miles away will feel a bit like God’s gift.’ At the heart of the allure of the Betty Blue, of course, is the belief that she’s been driven crazy with love for you, her man. Most men seem curiously vulnerable to the idea that they’re so attractive, intellectually irresistible and accomplished in bed, they can actually unbalance their lovers emotionally. They’re almost certainly wrong, however.

`The background of the woman is more usually some sort of trigger,’ notes Boynton. "Her parents may have had an unstable relationship, or she may have learnt as a child that tantrums are how to get her own way.’ Add to that the dichotomy of knowing that her looks and her very craziness attract men and simultaneously hating herself for being admired for both - well, no wonder she’s a little unhinged. When things got a little too wild for him, William probed into Lizzie’s background. `Her parents had an acrimonious divorce, but there was damage from other stuff, too.’ So how did he end it? Was he worried that his `psycho’ girlfriend would retaliate? `Yes, so I started seeing less of her. She was needy at first, but realised it wasn’t right for her, either.

She craves a man to match her fight for fight. I couldn’t.’ More tellingly yet, once Lizzie understood it was over, and that William wasn’t just giving her the opportunity to be crazier yet in the interest of an explosive reunion, she got over him quickly. `Which was as annoying as it was a relief,’ he admits.

Inherent in a relationship with a Betty Blue is a ready-made justification for ending things. As an added bonus, it’s always her fault. Boynton points out, `a relationship is never one-sided. The man should ask himself why he’s in it in the first place. He may well be getting kicks out of his partner being neurotic and unreasonable. Does he like feeling powerful? Does he like being a protector?’ And ultimately, of course, the Betty Blue is a sexist creation. After all, if a man does a bit of shouting, demanding and stomping around, he’s admired for being fiery, passionate and Heathcliffian. The words `psycho’, `crazy’ and `mad’ hardly ever crop up. — The Guardian


A slice of Punjab in California
Aradhika Sekhon

Indira BhattiIndira Bhatti has her grade three class in school dancing bhangra every year. Most likely, half the school teachers will be up there on the stage too.

The remarkable thing about this is that this institution is Irene B. West Elementary School, in Sacramento, California, USA.

She has not only put the bhangra on stage in her school in California, she has also been a part of the panel, California committee on teaching credentials, that developed a test in Punjabi for the teachers who opted for Punjabi as their second language.

This Chandigarh girl comes from a family of educationists. My mom, Prakash Thandi, was Principal of Government Model School, Sector 10, Chandigarh.

I am what I am and now my daughter has trained to be a teacher too."

Goodbye Cher
Cher performs in Moscow as part of her farewell tour
Cher performs in Moscow as part of her farewell tour