Miles to go, more reforms needed in personal laws

Supreme Court verdict setting aside triple talaq is a welcome step forward in the Muslim women’s struggle for gender justice. This is a beginning in the right direction. But many more changes are yet to take place. For one, the Constitutional Bench had indicated at the outset that they would only deliberate on triple talaq whereas various petitioners including ourselves had prayed for abolition of triple talaq, nikah halala and polygamy.

Besides, we have for long advocated for divorce to take place through the talaq-e-ehsan method involving reconciliation, mediation and dialogue for a period of at least ninety days. We have also been advocating for a Quran-based Muslim family law that would also live up to the Constitutional principles of gender equality.

In our impleadment petition in the Supreme Court, we had put forward Quranic evidence suggesting that Allah created women and men as equal. It is our firm belief that gender justice is a fundamental principle of the Quran; a fact that has not got highlighted owing to the domination of conservative patriarchal forces who planted themselves as representatives of the Indian Muslims. These forces have sought to pass off their own male-dominated worldview as the Islamic worldview to the utter detriment of women’s equality.

They have never allowed Muslim personal law to be codified. This has allowed their writ to prevail unchallenged. They have forever justified un-Quranic practices such as triple talaq and nikah halala leading to violation of women’s rights. We are hopeful that armed with this judgment, Muslim women will be able to resist these practices legally and socially.

Justice J S Khehar spoke eloquently about the role of the legislature. We believe that a Quran-based Muslim family law would end the legal discrimination faced by Muslim women in India. Our Constitution allows for personal laws to be based on religious texts of various communities. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, the frequent amendments made in the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act are testimonials to this.

There was resistance from Hindu groups when the Parliament sought to legislate through the Hindu Code. But undeterred by the opposition and mindful of its Constitutional duties, the Parliament went ahead with the legislation. Unfortunately, the Parliament could never show the same determination in the matter of legislation pertaining to Muslims.

In effect, Muslim women are left without any legal protection in matters of marriage and family. This is a huge lacunae in our democracy; seventy years after Independence, a Muslim woman has to run from pillar to post to seek justice. The survivors of triple talaq were forced to approach the Supreme Court as they could not find justice within the community.

The patriarchal bodies such as the personal law board must recognise their abject failure in providing semblance of support to ordinary women. The political class that always embraced these male hegemonists as Muslim leaders has its own to blame too.

We have been calling for a comprehensive reform in Muslim personal law ever since our inception as a women’s organisation. We held the first national public hearing on triple talaq in Mumbai in December 2012 where 500 Muslim women from different states participated. As the survivors of triple talaq narrated their stories, most people in the audience were in tears. Women described how they were rendered destitute and homeless after being divorced in an instant.

They explained how they had no means of supporting themselves and their children after being thrown out. The stories have continued and many more cases have kept coming to us—from Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand.

This historic judgment is a testament to the fact that Indian democracy is maturing. The mere thought that Muslim woman stand a chance for a legal victory was unthinkable a few years ago. We are all aware of what happened to Shah Bano in 1986. But this time things were different.

Muslim women worked very hard to get this judgment. Muslim women fought bravely against all odds and were up against well-entrenched and powerful forces. We have been maligned and attacked by patriarchal elements who have not hesitated in calling us agents of the Hindu right. They have not been able to find any defence against our substantive arguments for ending triple talaq and have resorted to personal attacks.

But we stood our ground as scores of Muslim women and men joined in supporting us. We received support from all Indian women; women in the media, women in the legal profession, women in universities, women in government offices, women in the police force; women homemakers as well. The judgment setting aside triple talaq as invalid is indeed a victory for all Indian women.



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