3 Seconds Divorce is a 2018 Hindi-language documentary, which started streaming on Netflix in mid-June., Made by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Shazia Javed the film explores the tradition known as instant divorce, or triple divorce, often occuring in South Asia, in which a Muslim man divorces his wife by simply saying “divorce” three times in a row, or talaq, talaq, talaq in Urdu/Hindi. Many believe it to be the appropriate sharia-based method of divorce in Islam but in reality it is not. Some interpretations of the Islamic ruling is that for a man to divorce his wife he must state his intentions to divorce her on three separate and different occasions, allowing for time to reconcile and contemplate in between each declaration of intention. In India, where the documentary takes place, many Muslim imams and scholars have interpreted this rule as the intention of divorce being stated three times at one timepoint.
The documentary follows Lubna Choudhary, an activist working with Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), or the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement, which works to educate Muslim women on their Islamic rights, including divorce rights, and empower them through this education. Lubna, herself, has experienced triple divorce and the documentary begins with her retelling how her divorce happened and how shocked and heartbroken she was. We hear her painful yet inspiring story, including that she has a son and mother with whom she lives, as well as her involvement with BMMA. Along the way we also hear from founders of BMMA, learn about their work to educate Muslim women, girls, and boys, and their research among Muslim women in India.
The film is powerful and conveys the injustice of this practice unobstructed. The suffering that Lubna experienced, and continues to experience, along with the pain of other women whose stories are shared briefly, is clearly conveyed. Their frustration at being on the receiving end of their husbands’ abusive and manipulative tactics can be felt through the screen. Similarly, the viewer feels the frustration of the BMMA as they fight their uphill battle to criminalize triple divorce.
The Muslim women in the film have a clear understanding of the reality of sharia and their knowledge balances out the misogynistic interpretations offered by the male scholars interviewed in the film. This juxtaposition highlights the difficult position these women find themselves in, and which is presented in the film. On the one hand, they live in a country which is Islamophobic and has seen much Islamophobic violence in last few years (here, here and here), and the film explains this briefly, but well. On the other hand, they are dealing with misogynistic interpretations of Islam from within the community as well as accusations of traitorship. In one scene, we see some of the women from BMMA laughing over an accusation made by a local Muslim imam that they are being funded by the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party currently in power in Indian. Indeed, this tightrope in which Indian Muslim women find themselves reminded me of the tightrope Muslim women every where seem to experience when we choose to fight against misogynistic interpretations of our faith while still believing in the essence of Islam as an egalitarian tradition and thereby fighting against Islamophobia at the same time.
The film is a demonstration of both the oppression women face as well as the solidarity among women who suffer. From this film there is no doubt that triple divorce is destructive to women’s lives. It results in not only emotional and psychological pain, but financial hardship as well. There is also no doubt that the solidarity that occurs when women work to liberate each other is a powerful and beautiful force. The women of BMMA, including Lubna, work hard to educate and empower Muslim women, and their work makes inroads, though it is still not done and the fight for criminalization of triple divorce continues. Once scene, which for me, encapsulates both struggles is one in which Lubna speaks of her interactions with her son, explaining how she never tells her son of what his father did to her or why he did it (to marry other women as she explains) for fear of her son doing the same to a woman when he is grown, or perhaps in the hope that she can raise a son who respects women as his equal. Although she has suffered by the oppressive actions of her son’s father, she works to protect other women from being treated as she has. This is definitely a film worth watching and one I highly recommend.