One of the great absurdities about the Shoaib-Sania affair is that a national icon like Mirza is willing to marry someone who was willing to marry someone over the telephone. Shoaib Malik has now learnt that he cannot wed on telephone lines so lightly. Having dialled the wrong number on Ayesha Siddiqui he would also have learnt about the great ingenuity and efficiency of the Indian police in checking the elementary facts on garments.
Actually it has all been a lot of fuss about nothing. If Malik had taken the advice of the honourable members of the All India Muslim personal Law Board (AIMPLB) he could have just married Sania without bothering to divorce or shell out Rs 15,000. In Hyderabad alone, he could have taken four, not just two, brides without taking the trouble to divorce anyone. It is after all the city most frequented by aging Arabs hunting for young brides they can marry and divorce at will. As the pun doing the rounds on the SMS circuit said about the Sania-Ayesh-Shoaib triangle: "sabka Maalik ek"
In the modern democratic secular republic of India, personal laws governing the Muslim community are so retrograde that if you are a man anything goes. If you are a woman than, well, you are at the mercy of man. Here's what Qasim Rasool Ilyas, the spokesman of the AIMPLB, told me in the context of the Shoaib-Sania Tamasaha: "There is no curb on the man's right to take more than one wife. It is what is ordained in the Sharia. So Shoaib Akhtar need not have divorced that girl Ayesha."
But he had to undergo the public ignominy because in Pakistan there are curbs. The first wife has to give her consent in writing -- or orally to a recognised authority -- before a man can take a second wife. So had Ayesha moved a complaint in Pakistan, the nikaah to Sania would have been rendered null and void. Hence all the drama. Mumbai based lawyer Yusuf Hatim Muchala, known for his expertise in cases involving personal laws says that "in India there are no limits to the rights of a man to marry and divorce. In Pakistan a family ordinance was passed at the time of Ayub Khan to give some rights to the first wife."
So while a few Muslim majority countries have made attempts to give some protection to women, in India the laws women endure are medieval and allow a man to casually discard them. But after the Shahbano fiasco, politicians are just petrified of the so called clout of the mullahs. Instead of curbing the Mullahs, the Indian state panders to the most conservative elements. So ask the good Mr Ilyas whether the laws should be reformed to give greater justice to women and pat comes the answer: "How can we reform Allah's will? There can be no reform of the Sharia."
There is also apparently some debate on telephone nikaah. Members of the law board say that if the man cannot be present he can send a representative to speak on his behalf. Muchala says, "It depends on the facts of each case and in the Shoaib-Ayesha case the facts are really not clear though there are assertions and counter assertions." Ilyas says there is a tradition of "Vakalatan Nikaah where a man has someone else go through the nikkah formalities." Of coursek, he can get divorced in a trice were things not to work to his advantage.
So if we see Shoaib Malik as some kind of macho man from across the border who has come to carry off princess Sania, I say good that Ayesha Siddiqui exposed him. It is very rare that a Muslim woman in India can assert some rights. In this case we should be ashamed of the fact that the plump girl from Hyderbad could do so not because Indian laws offer her any protection but because Pakistani laws have the potential to embarrass Malik.
Behind the sordid and titillating drama, there is a serious dimension to this case. Shoaib Malik was never a master of the doosra and in this case he just couldn't get away with it.