“Triple talaq is an innovation which may have served a purpose at a particular point of time in history. But if it is rooted out, such a move would not be contrary to any basic tenets of Islam or Quran or any ruling of Prophet Muhammad.”
— Justice B.D. Ahmed
The landmark judgment in the Shah Bano case gave the right to maintenance to divorced Muslim women but it was viewed by Muslim hardliners as being in conflict with the Islamic laws. And now, when Muslim women activists are asking for codification of Islamic laws pertaining to divorce, marriage and property rights as Muslim women especially those from the lower strata of society feel they are not given justice, there is the same objection from the orthodox Muslim clergy and conservative Muslims like it was in the Shah Bano case. The ulemas and mullahs feel the codification of Islamic laws, which would favour women, is in contravention of Sharia laws. According to Zakia Soman, an office-bearer of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan , “Most religious leaders are very resistant to any change .” As proof to Zakia Soman’s observation, Maulana Zahir Abbas says, “Everything is already there in the Quran so what is the need for codification of Islamic laws?” According to Advocate S.Venkateshwar of the Bombay High Court, there is a need to codify Islamic laws. “Codification helps in setting down rules of evidence and procedure. It also helps in eliminating arbitrary interpretation of uncodified laws,” says Advocate Venkateshwar. Noorjehan Safia Niaz, the founder member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which has a 35, 000 strong women’s group, and which is fighting for Muslim women’s rights in particular and women in general, says in DNA, “Hindu and Christian laws are codified and there is no reason why Muslim laws cannot be codified when most countries have codified them.” The truth is that nothing really has changed for the underprivileged Muslim women even after the Shah Bano judgment. Dr. Rekha Singh of the MDDM College in her study of “Status of women in Indian society” mentions that Indian Muslim women are far more backward than their Hindu, Christian and Sikh counterparts.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) has conducted a survey across 10 states with a sample size of 4,719 Muslim women. The findings of the survey have been published in DNA on August 12, 2015. According to the survey, the status of Muslim women is quite disturbing. The survey mentions that 55.3 per cent of Muslim women are married before the age of 18 which denies them the access to education. 53.2 per cent of Muslim women faced domestic violence.
According to the survey, 75 per cent of women want the marriage age for girls to be above 18. 85 per cent of Muslim women want mehr to be given at the time of marriage. Mehr is a mandatory payment in the form of money or possessions paid by the groom or the groom’s father to the bride at the time of marriage, which legally becomes hers. In case of divorce, Muslim women do not want to forego their mehr. It was found that 40 per cent of Muslim women received mehr of less than Rs 1000. As regards polygamy, 91 per cent of Muslim women did not want their husbands marrying in subsistence of first marriage. Almost 91 per cent of Muslim women wanted a total ban on oral unilateral divorce. They wanted arbitration to be made before divorce.
BMMA says that they have not approached any religious body or clerics over the issue of the codification of Islamic laws. It is easy to judge that the response from the clerics for the codification of Islamic laws would not be conducive, which is why Muslim women activists want the government to intervene to help in the codification of Islamic laws. But the government could feel that intervention for codification of Islamic laws, even if Muslim women want it, would be viewed by Muslim hardliners as interference in their personal laws and it would set off an unwanted political controversy causing an embarrassment for the government. The government should override political concerns and take affirmative action in codifying Islamic laws especially when Muslim women are asking for the government intervention. Such a move would empower the Muslim women.
According to Justice BD Ahmed, “Triple talaq is an innovation, which may have served a purpose at a particular point of time in history. But if it is rooted out, such a move would not be contrary to any basic tenets of Islam or Quran or any ruling of Prophet Muhammed.” There is this bizarre case of a husband calling from abroad and divorcing his wife over the phone by uttering the oral instant triple talak. While Muslim women want the oral triple talak to be banned totally and are seeking the government support on this issue, the Muslim Personal Law Board has raised serious objections to the banning of triple talak. Spokesperson of the Muslim Personal Law Board, Mohammed Abdul Rahim Qureshi has said that the Muslim Personal Law Board will not support a government ban on triple talak. “For one, we don’t want the government to interfere in matters of Muslim Personal Law, and for another, triple talak is permitted under the Hadith (the Prophet’s sayings).” Ironically, 95 per cent of Muslim women have not heard of the Muslim Personal Law Board! Advocate Nilufer Akhtar of the Bombay High Court says that she is all for the Codification of Islamic laws. “I have been insisting on this for 10 years,” says Niufer Akhtar. If Islamic laws are codified then the husband cannot pronounce triple talak on the wife instantly,” maintains Nilufer Akhtar. “He will be called to the court for dissolution of the marriage,’’ concludes Akhtar. Several women groups and activists are fighting against the patriarchal Sharia laws and are thus colliding with the orthodox clergy, who are governed by lack of sound education and ignorance, and the Muslim Personal Law Board, which these women feel is displaying a regressive ideology not conducive to the empowerment of Muslim women.
Though the Supreme Court gave the verdict in favour of Shah Bano in 1985, the Indian Parliament reversed the judgment under pressure from the Muslim hardliners and denied alimony to Shah Bano, which she had won from the Supreme Court. The then Congress government passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, which weakened the judgment of the Supreme Court and as a consequence denied even a pittance to destitute women Muslim divorcees. Later, however, the in judgments including Latifi case and Shamima Farooqui versus Shahid Khan case, the Supreme Court interpreted the act in a manner reassuring the validity of the Shah Bano case and upheld the Supreme Court judgment to give alimony to Muslim divorcees and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986 was nullified.
THE BJP in its manifesto had pledged to draft the Uniform Civil Code but has so far failed to do so.
The BJP government had also ostentatiously mentioned of “gender equality” in its manifesto. One naturally assumes by gender equality the
government means that it will reach out to all women cutting across religion and caste. As a first step towards gender equality, the present government can play a proactive role in codifying Islamic laws without thinking of vote bank politics.
By Indira Satyanarayan