The other side of divorce
According to Gilani Research Foundation Survey for 2019, 58% Pakistanis opined that the divorce rate has increased in the country. There are many reasons behind such trend, ranging from domestic abuse to possessing different perceptions about life. No matter, whoever initiates divorce proceedings, commonly a woman is blamed, especially if she is educated and a professional in the patriarchal society of Pakistan. In this regard, most prominently quoted and widely acceptable notion is that because of being academically qualified and professionally profound, women are not only sensitized about their socio-economic rights in domestic environment but have a courage to take their decisions, when it comes to various types of abuse in matrimonial relations. Erroneously, male chauvinists regard such women not only the admirers of western ethos but also a threat to stereotype practices and traditions.
Nevertheless, the most neglected aspect of this debate remains in ‘unilateral divorce’. Such divorce is processed by one partner without consulting or informing the other, may it be a husband or a wife. The underlying intention of this divorce is to inflict harm and insult the other party, both psychological and emotional. Such divorces are primarily processed by estranged husbands against their wives. Although, a country-wide comprehensive statistic on divorce is not available but as per the media sources, for a single month of September 2019, in Rawalpindi alone, family court issued 11 notices of Khula, while in 74 cases husbands filed for divorce. These statistics second the above-mentioned notion that, the main contender of filling a divorce are still husbands, which in many cases are ‘unilateral’ in nature. It may be because of the fact that not only families but the society, as well reassures a male that for him, it is easy to remarry as compared to a divorcee woman. Secondly, the families and friends at times play a significant role in fanning the differences between the couples. In majority of cases, the spoilers are the male side. In such socio-cultural paradigm, no matter how much unreasonable is the cause of divorce, often a husband takes this one-sided step. This is despite of the fact that, while contracting a marriage, a permission of a woman is required, but in case of a split, this is no more a norm. Through 1961 Muslim Family Law Ordinance-MFLO, divorce matters are streamlined via two main developments. First, Arbitration Council was constituted to mediate between the estranged partners. Nevertheless, its insignificant success rate, primarily because of its non-binding authority, hardly contributes in minimizing the divorce rate. People often ignore such notices, considering it a psychological and emotional awkwardness.
Second, the detailed marriage contract known as Nikhanama, included an important safety provision for women known as ‘Haq Mehr’, in which a handsome amount need to be mentioned for husband, while contracting and divorcing a wife. In case, a wife wants a separation, ‘Khula’, she has to surrender her ‘Haq Mehr’. In most of the cases, considering this clause cosmetic, the amount of ‘Haq Mehr” is minimized and thus with it goes away a wife’s security. Here it is important to mention that ‘Haq Mehr’ is not only a legal but also a religious obligation, which is downplayed by both husband and wife’s family in Pakistan. It can be either in shape of a property or a cash. As per the mode of payment, there are two types of ‘Mehr’; prompt (mehr moajjal) and deferred (ghair moajjal or mu’wajjal). The first category of ‘Mehr’ connotes an immediate payment at the time of marriage, while the second give relaxation to pay later, depending on the circumstances. If it is not written in a marriage contract, even then it is an obligation. In majority of the cases, to mention this amount is symbolic as unrealistic meagre amount is fixed as ‘Haq Mehr’. There is little consideration that at least the amount should correspond with the requirements of the real world, taking regard of the social position of a wife, to the minimal. In Surah al-Nisa, there are clear directions regarding the ‘Haq Mehr’ and the husband has been asked to be generous and kind in this matter. It has been observed that in some cases, even if a reasonable amount is mentioned as ‘Haq Mehr’, the families prompts the bride to surrender this right. The common practice to over-look this significant safeguard for women is pointed out in The Economist latest article, “Marriage in Pakistan: Clawless Clauses”. The writing first highlight that the brides are themselves ignorant about their religion granted rights. Secondly, the untrained registrars cross out (though illegally) those provisions of the Nikhanama that grant protection to women.
Coming back to the topic of divorce, it is important to understand that when marriage is a mutually agreed contract then how in majority of cases, the divorce becomes a sole prerogative of a male in the Pakistani society. Apart from social training, the only legal and religious step which could minimize this trend is a realistic ‘Haq Mehr’, which could provide women at least financial security, in case of a breakup, initiated by the husband, unilaterally. There are two ways to ensure a comfort for a woman. First the families should openly discuss the ‘Haq Mehr’ beforehand for a mutual understanding. Second, the Nikahnama should recommend different amounts as per the social classes, making it mandatory to mention a reasonable amount, so that no one could make a mockery of this important yet relevant financial security and obligatory religious directive.
While concluding, first, it can be said that divorce is the most unlikable act in Islam but despite of being an Islamic society, still its percentage presents an increasing trend. In this regard, the role of Ulemas is significant, who could sanitize about the seriousness of such actions. Second, after hearing the both parties, the Arbitration Council should be a binding authority, while finalizing divorces. Third, the registration of marriage should be conditional with sufficient and reasonable amount of ‘Haq Mehr’, which could bind both partners to file a divorce after rationally evaluating the pros and corns, instead of becoming a vehicle of hate and anger.