Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik divorced his first wife Ayesha Siddiqui Wednesday, ending a storm of controversy surrounding his impending marriage with Indian tennis star Sania Mirza. Events of the past few days could have been taken straight from the plot of a Bollywood movie.
“The divorce papers have been handed to the police. That was the one stumbling block and we wish him [Malik] well now,” Farooq Hasan, a Pakistani lawyer who says he was acting on behalf of Ms. Siddiqui.
Malik and Ms. Mirza are scheduled to wed on April 15.
Under the settlement, Siddiqui will receive 15,000 rupees ($336), 5,000 rupees a month for the next three months as an ex-spousel maintenance fee in compliance with Islamic matrimonial law.
Malik had earlier argued that his 2002 marriage to Siddiqui was null and void because Siddiqui had sent him a fake photograph of herself prior to their telephone ‘nikah’ - matrimonial contract.
Under Islamic law, telephone marriages are only permissible if the identities of both parties can be confirmed by witnesses. It's a form of marriage that's been approved by Muslim clerics for at least 30 years, often for cross-border Indian-Pakistani couples. In recent years, they have also been conducted via webcams.
When Siddiqui’s family, however, heard of the engagement of the Pakistani cricketer and the Indian tennis star, they publicly challenged it. They approached Indian police, who detained Malik for two hours on Monday and seized his passport preventing him from leaving the country.
With the announcement today of the divorce by officials in India, Hasan says he'll drop the case.
“The community, especially elders. were upset at the muck throwing, the allegations and counter allegations, the inconsistencies in the statements. Things were going bad to worse; there was a lot of pressure from community on both families that this should not be done this way. That is why we got involved,” local Indian Congress Party official Abid Rasool Khan said at a press conference Wednesday to announce the divorce.
"I only wanted this [divorce]. It has been done. I wish them [Sania and Malik] well," added Farisa Siddiqui, Ayesha’s mother.
For many Pakistanis, news of the divorce was met with relief and jubilation. “This issue has been overblown by the media, who were instigated by the Indian establishment to jeopardize the marriage,” says Umar Gondal, a Lahore-based lawyer.
Media outlets on both sides of the India-Pakistan border have given the case almost blanket coverage. Geo News, Pakistan’s most popular TV channel, has at times carried a separate ticker dedicated to updates about the couple.
Indian reaction to the engagement has generally been less favourable, though the underlying reason for the India’s hostility and Pakistan’s happiness may lie in the stars’ respective genders, argues Pakistani journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi in Dawn. “Let’s take Bollywood films as a rough social gauge …. When it comes to cross-border love, [the norm is that] the wilting Pakistani girl melts into the arms of her Indian saviour,” she says, noting a relationship between male chauvinism and nationalism.