The welfare of Muslim women is a must, but is the issue of triple Talaq being used to push for Uniform Civil Code and Hindu Supremacy? The RSS, shedding crocodile tears for Muslim women’s rights has itself fought against reforms in the Hindu Code Bill.
Najma, a poor girl from Murshidabad, West Bengal, India, was studying in Al-Amin Mission. She couldn’t study after tenth grade as her parents ‘married her off’ when she passed the tenth standard.
Islam allows widow remarriage, inheritance, woman’s consent to marriage, but in this case, there was no consent.
After her marriage, she was a victim of dowry violence. Her husband executed Talaq after two years of their marriage by uttering the word ‘Talaq’ thrice and six months after the divorce, the husband remarried. Najma was sent back to her paternal house. She is a social outcast now.
Anawara went to see a fair which angered her husband. In the spite of rage, he pronounced Talaq thrice. He immediately realised his mistake and wanted to take back the words. It was too late by then.
The neighbours heard it, and her parents made her marry another man so that when he executes divorce, Anwara could remarry her first husband. That is how halala works. But Anwara didn’t abide by it. She chose to end her life instead, and committed suicide.
Triple Talaq is a practice allowed by the Muslim Personal Law Board in India, a non-governmental organisation which considers itself to be the guardian of the Muslim Personal Law in India.
“Talaq or repudiation is the unilateral termination of a marriage contract by the husband…Talaq is one of the major factors that result in women’s unequal status in marriage.” (International Solidarity Network, 2003:255)
It is important to mention here that in this time of advanced technology, Talaq is often executed through text messages and e-mail and these Talaqs are being validated by the Maulavis with the support of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
In the aftermath of independence in 1947, India took positive steps to reform the Hindu Law. In 1955, the Hindu Marriage Act and in 1956, the Hindu Inheritance Law, was passed, and these acts were later modified according to time and changing conditions of society.
In 1955 Hindu Family law was codified. In 1936 Parsi family law was codified. The year 1860 saw the starting of codification of Christian law and amendments in that have taken place as well. The Parliament passes these laws.
If we see the history of the evolution of Muslim personal law from colonial to post-colonial India, then in 1937 the Shariat Application Act was passed. In 1939 Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act was passed. Muslim women were allowed to go to court for divorce according to this law. It was an incomplete act.
In 1986 (post-independence) Muslim women’s Protection Act was passed. The age of marriage, polygamy, Talaq, custody, inheritance-nothing was codified. There is no written law.
The discourse of Muslim Personal Law and Muslim women in India is never far from controversy, conflict, and criticism.
The first of such conflicts was seen in the case of Shah Bano in 1985. This very famous occurrence was based on the case Shah Bano filed in the Supreme Court against her husband, Ahmed Khan. She was divorced by her husband, and the destitute Shah Bano didn’t have any means to survive. Hence she filed for maintenance.
In Islamic law, a divorcee is eligible for maintenance for only ninety days (also known as the Iddat period) or three menstrual cycles after a divorce, but that wasn’t enough for Shah Bano. Hence, she filed a court case against her ex-husband when he stopped giving her maintenance.
The Supreme Court gave a verdict in favour of Shah Bano and maintained that Ahmed Khan should pay every month, but the Muslim patriarchs were not happy with this “interference” in the religion and personal law. Hence widespread debate, criticism, and controversy were seen in the wake of this case.
Shah Bano’s identity as a Muslim woman was also questioned. Facing widespread resistance from the Muslim community and fearing the loss of vote and power, the then Rajiv Gandhi government overruled the Supreme Court verdict and passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in 1986. This act nullified the Supreme Court’s decision. There were huge protests against this by many women’s organisations which felt that the government, to retain its Muslim vote bank, deliberately left the Muslim women at the mercy of the patriarchs of this community.
Many cases have reached national platforms since Shah Bano. One such case in Imrana’s. Twenty eight-year-old Imrana was raped by her father-in-law in 2005. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Deoband issued a fatwa saying that because of the rape, Imrana couldn’t stay with her husband anymore and had to consider him as her son.
The organisations didn’t differentiate between adultery and rape. Finally, when the news spread and was covered by the media, the National Commission for Women put pressure on the authorities. Imrana’s father-in-law was arrested.
In this case also, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, where the incident took place, took the side of the issuers of fatwa like in the case of Shah Bano.
The most recent case to hit the national platforms again regarding the Muslim Personal Law is the case of Shayara Banu. Shayara Banu in 2016 filed a petition in Supreme Court against the practice of instantaneous triple Talaq, quoting her fundamental rights as a citizen of India.
Banu’s husband Rizwan tortured her for dowry after marriage and abused her mentally and physically. When her condition deteriorated, she was asked to go to her parental home until she recovered. After six months, Shayara received a talaqnama through the post, and it was deemed that the divorce was executed by her husband.
Her in-laws didn’t allow her to talk to her children. Banu didn’t accept this practice of triple talaq and petitioned the Supreme Court.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board criticised this move stating that the only thing the centre wants out of this case is the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and they have reportedly said that this is a ‘ploy to impose UCC on the community’.
Uniform Civil Code is a proposal to replace the personal laws in India with a common set of laws governing every citizen equally. The plan of this code is given in Article 44 of Indian Constitution under the Directive Principle of State Policies. It has still not been formed and passed by Indian legislature.
The mere mention of Uniform Civil Code brings up fierce debates in Indian society and politics. The main party that has been adamant about imposing UCC in India is the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). The BJP has always been vocal about enforcing UCC. Their justification is that the Muslim women suffer from the patriarchal interpretations of Sharia and hence to give them justice, the UCC should be formed.
While it is true that Indian Muslim women are being exploited by patriarchal practices in the community and that they do not have any legal security, one cannot overlook the hypocritical game that BJP is trying to play. Since the case of Shah Bano, BJP has time and again demanded UCC. But let us not forget that BJP is a right wing party with the ideology of Hindutva, that propagates Hindu supremacy.
Their parent organisation RSS is an extremist Hindu ultra-nationalist organisation with chronic Islamophobia. The main agenda of these two organisations is to spread Hindu nationalism in India. They do not care about the Muslim welfare or women’s equality, except through the myopic vision and the venomous hatred that these Hindu nationalists have for the Muslim community.
Coming from this upper class, upper caste, Hindi-Hindu background, the sympathy for Muslim women sounds like an empty vessel making some noise. They do not care about the Muslim women’s welfare. Their main agenda is to impose Hinduism all over the country, and one of the ways is to abolish the Muslim personal law.
The jargon of Halala and Triple Talaq for giving “justice” to Muslim women is used to spread Hindu hegemony. Also, the party and the organisation itself are patriarchal. Their tears for Muslim women can be very easily termed as crocodiles’ tears.
It is also worth mentioning that while Nehru and Ambedkar were fighting to pass the Hindu Code Bill in the 1950s, this is the same party that fought against the reforms mentioned in the Hindu Code Bill. The Hindu Code Bill sought to bring equality in Hindu Personal Law and give women certain rights in the matter of marriage, property, divorce, etc.
So what made this organisation suddenly turn and talk about injustices in Muslim Personal Law when they apparently wanted the Hindu women to go through similar unjust practices? The sudden change of heart, possible enlightenment or Islamophobia/dominance of Hinduism?
Right now the India is raging with heated debates regarding triple Talaq. While the BJP is asking for UCC, the Supreme Court is seeking to ban triple Talaq. Supreme Court very clearly argued that UCC and triple Talaq are two very different issues. Since the past one year, the Supreme Court has received multiple petitions seeking a ban on triple Talaq, polygamy, and Halala.
The centre (BJP led National Democratic Alliance) has been trying to use this issue to form UCC.
The 3-2 verdict of the Supreme Court on Tuesday banned triple Talaq for six months and delegated the parliament to legislate on the same.
This is a dangerous political move by the apex court of the country.
The Supreme Court, by empowering the parliament with the tool of legislating might wake the sleeping dragon. The Muslim community now will fear the complete destruction of the community one step at a time, and with that, the principles of pluralism, multiculturalism and other flowery principles of democracy will face an untimely death.
Utsa Sarmin is a research scholar from Cambridge University, United Kingdom. She has completed her M.Phil in development studies.
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.