Members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB),
ago I was sitting with the vice principal of the all girls’ school I attended
as a child in Kolkata. She told me how she was aghast at the request of one of
the prospective students’ mother to not disclose her educational qualification
in front of her husband, when they come for a formal interview for admission.
She had a Masters in psychology from Aligarh Muslim University. “He thinks I
have only studied up to class 10. If he finds out, he will divorce me,” she
aftershocks of the opposition to the Shah Bano case continue to haunt Muslim
women in the form of the Muslim Women’s bill, as an Indian Muslim woman and a
student of Islamic feminism and Human Rights Law I am amazed that little has
changed since 1985 as far as the involvement of an organisation of your repute
in matters concerning rights of Muslim women in India is concerned. Fully aware
of the fear of many, including me, of mistaking the demand of codification with
that of a demand of unification, I believed that educated members of the board
would stand for and with Shayara Bano and her gender and demand that ‘Triple
Talaq’ needed to be banned, made unlawful!
women are expected to live and abide by religious norms and their conformity to
religious values is viewed as a basis of judging the identity of their
community as a whole, as discussed by Zoya Hassan in her book, Forging
Identities: Gender, Communities and the State in India. More often than not,
they are discriminated against by patriarchal codes of religious laws and
expected not to rise against the status quo in the name of protecting community
identity. This community identity has emerged as a formidable force and what is
evident today is a tension between two fronts: the male dominated Muslim
leadership’s desire to ensure that rights remain in the domain of a ‘collective
communal existence’ and not a ‘function of democratic citizenship’ on one hand,
and the demand for rights and justice for women on the other.
the wake of the rising political right and communal tensions and lynching, the
un-codified Muslim Personal Law in India – which deals with issues such as
marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance, succession, adoption and custody
of children – has become a vital symbol of minority identity, the defence of
which – right from the overturning of the Shah Bano judgement – has resulted in
the subordination of Muslim women in India to the perceived interests of the
Muslim community. The tussle between enactment of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) by
the political right, governing heterogeneous communities as one, on one hand,
and the insistence on maintenance of status quo, fearing the loss of their
religious identity, by male leaders of the religious minorities on the other,
has left Muslim women as the worst affected.
Bano, like her predecessor, Shah Bano has approached the apex court demanding
the protection of a right which is not only constitutionally guaranteed to her,
but for those opposing her, including the AIMPLB, it is imperative to know that
her demand is not Unislamic at all. The board which claims to be the protector of
Muslim Personal law (MPL) in India, and which is now going to be party to the
case and contest her claim, should have done enough earlier to ensure that
women like Shayara did not have to face what they are facing in the first
that Muslims are content with the Shariah as it is practiced in India today has
no basis, with no data to prove this claim. On the contrary, the Bhartiya
Muslim Mahila Andolan’s (BMMA) study, under the leadership of its founders
Zakia Soman and Dr Noorjehan Safia Niaz, covering 4,500 women across ten Indian
States is proof enough that Indian Muslim women are demanding a codification of
the largely un-codified body of Muslim laws in India. With over 80% respondents
saying there needs to be a reform in the current MPL, over 75% also believed
that the age of marriage for girls should not be on attainment of puberty but
should be eighteen years and above, contrary to what you have been supporting.
Over 80% of those surveyed were of the opinion that adoption should be made
legal under MPL. Organisations like BMMA are also oblivious to the fact that
their demand for reforms may be wrongly misappropriated by the political right,
the ruling BJP, and thus is very vocal in clarifying that codification in no
way is a demand for UCC. For instance, while the study shows that out of all
the women surveyed, 92.1% were in favour of a total ban on the ‘Triple
Talaq/oral divorce’, the solution suggested was in the form of ‘Talaq-e-Ahsan’
to be the alternative, with majority of those surveyed wanting arbitration to
be mandatory before divorce.
divorce to Shayara Bano is declared illegal, will it be a defeat for the
community? Or is the worry more about Muslim men not being able to unilaterally
divorce their wives as and when they wish to?
its draft Muslim Family Act calls for a complete ban on ‘Triple Talaq’ (Oral
repudiation of marriage by merely pronouncement of the term ‘Talaq’ or divorce
thrice by the husband) and calls for only the ‘Talaq-e-Ahsan’ method of
divorce. I have had the chance to compile case studies of women from across the
country who have been divorced unilaterally by their husbands, sometimes even
on the phone and thus am aware of ground realities of this evil myself. BMMA
seeks a complete ban on ‘Triple Talaq’ and provide relief to specially women
belonging to poor economic backgrounds.
You at the
AIMPLB on the other hand, refuse to take a firm stand on the issue. Thus, while
you recommend the ‘Talaq-e-Ahsan’ method described above, in your model ‘Nikahnama’,
the husband is ‘instructed’ to merely ‘avoid’ using the ‘Triple Talaq’ method
of divorce. The board insists that the ‘Triple Talaq’ method is not a legal
evil but merely a social one and hence does not call for a complete ban.
of status quo in the name of not interfering in the ‘divine’, even though the
Shariah as practiced in India is man-made law, has been the stand taken by the
AIMPLB whenever confronted by issues which directly affect Indian Muslim women.
Women organisations like BMMA among others have been extremely vocal in their
stand on Muslim women rights and when one compares their work with all male led
organisations like yourself in furthering the rights of Muslim women, there is
little doubt as to who should lead the movement for reform in the Muslim
stand with the aggrieved, not against them.
Indian Muslim Woman standing firmly in solidarity with Shayara and her cause.