There is currently a call for the reform of personal laws such as the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA). Article 16 of the constitution states that existing written and unwritten laws, such as the MMDA, will continue in force even over constitutional law. However, the MMDA has caused a number of difficulties to Muslim women across the island.

This is the first in a series of video interviews conducted by sister publication Maatram, which will also be posted on Groundviews in the coming days. Read below for the transcript of the interview in English:

“In the beginning, we were happy. My husband went abroad and sent back money for two years. However since April 2007, we have heard nothing from him, and the money stopped coming. I called him after 5 months. His phone worked at that time, although he didn’t answer. Instead, a lady picked up. When I spoke to her, she revealed that she was living with my husband, and they had two children. She said she wouldn’t allow him to return to Sri Lanka, and hung up. When I called back, my husband answered and verbally abused me.

I myself have two children. The oldest is 9, the youngest 6. I filed a case in the quazi courts. My husband didn’t come for the first hearing, even though I know he was in Sri Lanka at the time. He came for the second hearing, and lied saying his mother was sick when he was questioned on his absence at the first hearing. He told the courts that he couldn’t support us. So I appealed to the Board of Quazis for support. I had to file a warrant in order for him to give us any money – he gave us Rs. 44,000 for around 7 months. From May 2008 to now, he hasn’t sent us one rupee. My children and I have not heard from him. He has to send us Rs. 598,000 in support, according to a ruling from the Board of Quazis. During hearings in 2007, I asked who would send us maintenance payments if my husband went overseas again. At that time, his father promised to take on the responsibility. Now he is saying he never did so, and is refusing to send us the money. Yet my husband is still sending the money to him.

The courts ruled that our family will receive Rs. 3000 a person (Rs. 9000 in total) for a month. That is Rs. 100 per person, for a day. What can you eat for Rs. 100? You cannot even buy breakfast, or half a kilogram of fish for that money – not even with the Rs. 300 we would get a day. My eldest son, who was in grade 9 has now left school and gone to work – we live off his income.

When I went to the quazi courts with this letter saying that we had received no maintenance from 2007 to date, the judge said since he had only been appointed in 2016, he could only authorise maintenance payments for 2016, and that he was not responsible for the previous year’s payments. He asked me to come back with another letter asking for maintenance only for this year.

I am sick, and have a thyroid problem. My son who is 12 continually throws up when he eats. We took him to hospital but could find nothing wrong – the hospital suggested we take him to Kurunegala.

We have no male support – no one to help us. It was the quazi court who told me that the Board of Quazis had ruled that they couldn’t give my family maintenance. They say my father-in-law has to give us the money. Yet the quazi courts are not doing anything practical to ensure that I can get the payments. They told me to go to the Board of Quazis again, in Colombo. I don’t know the language, and I am not familiar with Colombo. Last time, I hired someone to come with me and help me. I don’t even have the money to do that now. Who can I turn to for help now? Who will give me the money I am owed?”
To view the next video in the series, click here. More here