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Talaq exile junked, but home is way off - All smiles

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  • Published 23.04.06

Bhadrak, April 23: Four-year-old Naina paces noisily up and down the narrow stairs of the NGO shelter as her young mother, dressed in a cheap, light pink cotton sari, smiles at her.

In a few minutes, her five-year-old brother Lucky joins her. The children seem to sense the festive mood at Ashiyana, the run-down “short-stay home” in Bhadrak town’s Muslim-dominated locality of Shankarpur.

After nearly three years of “exile”, their parents Najma Biwi and Sheikh Sheroo look relaxed as they discuss their next step.

A day after the Supreme Court asked the Orissa government to provide protection to the harried couple ? barred from living together by their community after the husband had uttered the triple talaq in a drunken state ? Najma can afford a smile.

But the couple aren’t too sure they are ready to go back to their home in Bhadrak’s Kantabenia locality, which they were forced to flee late in 2003. Since then, they have been moving from place to place while seeking help from the police, the National Human Rights Commission and several courts. Najma and her children often stayed in NGO-run homes.

Most community leaders and clerics have been silent since Friday’s apex court order, but their leader isn’t ready to accept defeat.

Abdul Bari, chief of the Chaudamohalla Muslim Jama’at and an affluent businessman, said defiantly: “We are not concerned about the security cover (for the couple). Let her get Z-plus security.”

Would he allow the couple to stay together? “We never harassed them in the past,” the former Congressman said though the claim is challenged by the couple and Sophiya Sheikh, a social activist who had given Najma shelter for some time.

Bhadrak superintendent of police Diptesh Patnaik says he will provide a police escort to Sheroo when he goes out for work in addition to the two constables to be posted at the couple’s home.

Abdus Salam, Ashiyana director, doubts whether the judgment will help the couple. “Who would employ Sheroo with a policeman trailing him?” he asks.

On July 5, 2003, a drunken Sheroo, a part-time truck labourer, had uttered “talaq” three times to his wife of 11 years. The matter would have ended there had it not been for some local women who, a fortnight later, announced they had heard Sheroo divorce his wife.

As local clerics asked them to separate, the couple obtained an order from a Cuttack family court to stay together but police refused to help implement it. Appeals to the rights commission brought no relief, either.

An NGO helped them move the high court, but it refused to intervene and dismissed the plea on April 18, 2005.

But on Friday, a three-judge apex court bench headed by Justice Ruma Pal said: “No one can force them to live separately?.”

The women in the locality are happy. Najma’s aunt Khairun Biwi said the practice of triple talaq should be banned immediately.

“It’s unjust and cruel. By using religion as weapon, our men have reduced us to zero,” said Khairun, whose daughter Ruksana has been deserted by her husband after 10 years of marriage.

Najma’s mother Nasima Biwi, too, called for a change of the talaq law.