Rahmathnisha, a resident of Thirupattur in Sivagangai district, Tamil Nadu, was married to Varusai Mohamed from Karaikudi in the same district in 1989. Her husband works as an assistant engineer in Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation at Karaikudi. She has a son, Syed Anwar Ali, who is now 14. Rahmathnisha lived with her husband for ten years. During her life with her husband she suffered great torture at the hands of her husband and his family. Her husband had affairs with two other women while he was married to Rahmathnisha. Rahmathnisha could not tolerate his infidelity and complained to her mother-in-law but her in-laws did not see anything wrong with their son’s behaviour, excusing his conduct as common amongst men who worked in government departments. Rahmathnisha was not allowed to leave the house or interact with neighbours and relatives. She was practically under house arrest and made to live the life of a slave.
One day she happened to see her husband having sexual intercourse with another woman. She was extremely upset and lost her temper with her in-laws. Her in-laws’ response was menacing. They started mixing slow poison into the food meant for Rahmathnisha and her son; both of them had severe stomach cramps and were very ill. As the harassment continued and both her life and that of her son’s was at risk, Rahmathnisha left her in-laws’ house secretly and returned to her parents’ home. This was in the year 2000. After Rahmathnisha left, her husband made a complaint to the Kattuthalai Jamaat stating that she had put sleeping pills into their food and stolen jewels from their house. Discussions were then held with the Thirupattur and Kattuthalai Jamaats to determine the facts. In 2001, while Rahmathnisha was living with her parents, her husband sent a talaq letter to both the Thirupattur Jamaat and his wife. Since Rahmathnisha had her suspicions about what the letter contained, she refused to accept it and it was returned unopened. Again, lobbying between both Jamaats took place. During these discussions Rahmathnisha expressed her wish to live with her husband and requested the Jamaat to advise her husband to avoid relationships with other women. But that did not happen. Rahmathnisha wanted to live with her husband and had believed that her husband would come back to her. Discussions took place between the two Jamaats about the talaq letter and in July 2003, a settlement was arrived at. Varusai Mohamed promised to pay Rahmathnisha Rs. 42,000 but wanted her to sign a document stating that she would not claim anything for her son as heir to Varusai Mohamed’s property in the future. Rahmathnisha’s family could not accept this meagre amount and did not sign the documents or accept the money. In turn, they sent a request through the Thirupattur Jamaat claiming Rs. 1,00,000 as compensation. But Rahmathnisha was still very keen to live with her husband if he promised to change.
Meanwhile, Varusai Mohamed had already handed over Rs. 42,000 along with all the vessels and household things that Rahmathnisha had used to the Kattuthalai Jamaat and decided that he had fulfilled his commitments to his wife. Even before the two families had arrived at a final settlement, Varusai Mohamed had married another woman, also from Sivagangai, in May 2004. Rahmathnisha then lodged a protest with the Kattuthalai Jamaat, which had given Varusai Mohamed a no objection certificate for his second marriage. To that the Jamaat responded by telling Rahmathnisha that undergoing talaq was small change, an everyday matter worth one-and-a-half paise, and asked her why she was raising such a hue and cry about it. Since she did not receive a responsible answer from the Jamaat concerned, Rahmathnisha approached STEPS in July 2004 so as to punish her husband for entering into a second marriage and for doing so even before their divorce was final.
STEPS wrote to the Kattuthalai Jamaat asking them for an explanation for the NOC issued to Varusai Mohamed, and another letter to his employer. The Kattuthalai Jamaat sent STEPS a threatening reply, indicating that merely sending a letter could convey talaq, irrespective of Rahmathnisha’s opinion. So Rahmathnisha filed a case against her husband at Karaikudi women’s police station. But after consulting a lawyer, the inspector concerned said that since a second marriage was permissible in Islam, the criminal law did not apply to Muslim men in this regard. The police suggested a compromise instead. Ultimately, Varusai Mohamed was willing to pay Rahmathnisha Rs. 85,001 and asked her to sign an agreement declaring all settlements between them as having concluded. Rahmathnisha was still keen that her husband be punished for his actions and wanted to file an FIR against him. But the male members of her family did not want this, the long wait if the case went on for years in the future. They forced her to agree to the compromise and accept the amount that her husband was offering her today.
(Report from STEPS, an organisation of Muslim women with a presence in several districts of Tamil Nadu).
Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2004 Year 10 No. 99, Cover Story 6