Ishrat Jahan who took up the cudgels against triple talaq is now being targeted by a slanderous media campaign, and worse, her minor daughter is being used to carry out this shameful assault
She is fighting court battles against unilateral divorce, domestic violence and sexual harassment. And now, Ishrat Jahan has become a victim of a smear campaign and character assassination by a section of the community media.
Jahan was one of the five petitioners in the famous triple talaq case in the Supreme Court, which eventually led to the Union government tabling a bill to criminalise the Muslim practice of talaq-e-biddat (commonly called triple talaq or teen talaq).
The 31-year-old is not new to ostracisation from her community. Soon after the apex court declared the practice unconstitutional, Jahan faced social stigma, boycott and abuse from her community. She was called gandiaurat (a bad woman); she was blamed for revolting against her religion and interfering in Shariat rules. The taunts and teasing soon turned to threat calls, and the Howrah-resident was compelled to seek protection from Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The current smear campaign being run by a section of the community media attempts at discrediting her victimhood story by labelling her a woman of “loose character”. Several media platforms that cater to the Muslim community and reach a wide audience have been running one-sided accounts that Jahan was never given triple talaq. That she had an extra-marital affair all along. That she is not the victim but the culprit.
Jahan’s explanation is not sought.
But the worst part is this: they are quoting Jahan’s minor daughter for these allegations. They have carried interviews of the 14-year-old saying that her mother “is of loose character”.
A cringe-worthy video put out by Millat Times, a popular portal that publishes content in Hindi, Urdu and English, features a telephonic interview with the minor while her photograph and name appear on screen.
The news anchor asks, “Did any man come to your house? Did your mother meet other men?”
“Did you not object to your mother meeting another man?”
“How often did that man come to your home?”
“Who do you think is at fault, your mother or your father?”
To all the questions of the news anchor, the girl replies in what seems to be a rehearsed script. She says yes when asked if the ‘other’ man is named Afrazul. She says her mother threatened to thrash her if she disclosed this to anyone. She says she likes to live with her father and not her mother. She says she holds her mother guilty for whatever is wrong in the family. She says her mother was never given teen talaq.
All of 14.
One of the first comments on the story titled ‘My mother Ishrat Jahan had loose character. My father did not divorce her’, calls Jahan a “randi” (prostitute).
Ishrat Jahan and her husband Murtaza Ansari lived with his brother Mustafa’s family in Howrah’s Liluah after their marriage in 2001. Ansari left for Dubai around 2010 but would keep visiting Howrah. It was during his stay in Dubai that he allegedly gave teen talaq over the phone to Jahan in April 2015. At that time, she lived with all her four children – three daughters and a son – in Howrah. But ever since Ansari returned from Dubai for good, he remarried and took the daughters with him to his native Bihar. The youngest child, the son, continues to live with Ishrat Jahan in Howrah.
Another popular portal TwoCircles has followed a similar script as Millat Times. A print story titled ‘Did Ishrat Jahan, one of the petitioners in Triple Talaq, lie about her divorce?’, quotes the minor girl as telling the portal: “One Afrajul (Raju), whom mother introduced as our uncle, used to come to our home in our flat in Howrah. He also came to our village three times and during his last visit, he stayed here for five days. On the sixth morning, they left the home leaving us alone.”
These questions posed to a minor about her own mother are, least to say, disturbing. Activist Naresh Paras, associated with Child Rights and You (CRY), even called it a gross violation of a minor’s rights. “Asking questions about extra-marital affairs to a child amounts to obscenity. The person can be booked under POSCO,” said Paras, a key member of Mahfooz Surakshit Bachpan, a unit of CRY.
Paras expressed his anguish at the media “exploiting” a child to peddle a narrative. He added that displaying the photograph and name of a minor against her mother’s consent goes against the Juvenile Justice Act.
Ishrat Jahan is furious that her daughter is being “used by her husband and media” like this, but says she can do little about it. “The children live with him. They are parroting a script. They are being taught to speak in this manner,” she told Swarajya.
Ishrat Jahan says she knows about the “malicious campaign” against her. In her opinion, it’s all to do with her recent induction into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “Why did no one question the veracity of the teen talaq charge before I became a BJP face? I have been fighting for justice for more than two years. All this while, I was blamed for going against the community. Now they are trying to discredit my claims,” Jahan said.
About the allegations of an affair, she says, “I live in a joint family in Howrah. Is it possible that a stranger can come and meet me at the house without my brother-in-law’s family knowing about it? This is plain slander.”
Ishrat Jahan had moved the apex court in August 2016, seeking the practice to be made unconstitutional. In the preceding months, she had also lodged FIRs in the local Golabari station against her brother-in-law for making sexual advances towards her, and him and his wife for dowry harassment and domestic violence. According to Jahan, the rift in her marriage occurred after she gave birth to three daughters in a row and her husband had expressed his desire to have another wife. However, things didn’t improve even when she gave birth to a son in 2010.
The stories by these portals have been followed by other smaller portals and social media pages and have begun a chain of reactions, many of them abusive to Ishrat Jahan. Ansari’s recent interviews, where he too has questioned Ishrat Jahan’s “conduct”, have further fuelled the abuse and hate directed at her.
But wish the media platforms that have played up the husband’s version of the events had kept their minor children out of this mess.