By Mohammed Wajihuddin
February 5, 2016
Zakia Soman, co-founder of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
Zakia Soman is co-founder of Bhartiya
Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and part of the
campaign fighting the ban on women’s entry to Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah
sanctorum. Speaking with Mohammed Wajihuddin, Soman discussed the Haji
Ali and Shani Shingnapur agitations, a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) – and
intolerance in India:
Is BMMA showing solidarity with women
barred from Shani Shingnapur temple?
Well, we’ve been opposing the ban
introduced in 2012 on women’s entry to Haji Ali Mazaar – we believe in equality
of all human beings, irrespective of gender, caste, race and religion. We are
opposed to women being excluded from anywhere – we totally support the women
who’ve demanded entry into the Chabutra at Shani Shingnapur temple.
Their struggle has so much resonance with
Muslim women’s struggle.
It’s a patriarchal imposition to keep women
out of religious places. The Quran gave equal rights to women 1,400 years ago –
but patriarchal misinterpretations by male clergy denied women their rights.
Similarly, Hindu women have been kept out
of places like the Shani temple under different pretexts. Patriarchal forces
appointed themselves custodians of religion – they have done disservice to
women and society.
Can a Uniform Civil Code help Muslim
women get equal rights?
Leaders like Nehru and Ambedkar actually
were concerned about gender justice. They feared patriarchal male custodians in
all communities would not allow gender justice.
They thought a UCC could help – but at that
time, it was blocked, thanks to opposition from Sadhus and Mahants. Reforms in
Hindu law and various legislations like the Hindu Marriage Act paved the way
for justice. The Christian minority also made reforms within their religious
Unfortunately, a section of the orthodox
Muslim clergy stonewalled any effort towards reform in Muslim personal law.
A Muslim woman can get justice only if
Muslim personal law is reformed based on the Quranic framework. A comprehensive
codified Muslim personal law, dealing with age of marriage, divorce, polygamy,
custody of children and inheritance, is the way forward.
But BMMA tried to codify Muslim family
law – mainstream Muslim organisations remain unimpressed.
Our draft Muslim family law is appreciated
by many quarters – lawyers, legal researchers and most importantly, women
In 2014, we received 245 cases of
grievances from women in different cities – 90% were resolved based on the
Legal cells and women’s cells across states
are taking up cases of Muslim women based on our draft. The Law Commission of
India and the National Legal Services Authority have lent support to our
efforts. For the first time since 1947, Indian Muslim women have a draft law
which protects their rights in marriage and divorce – within the Quranic
framework. Eventually, a day will come when this draft will reach Parliament.
Currently, how do you see India’s
religious intolerance debate?
Well, larger Indian society is tolerant –
but there is a growing menace of rightwing, regressive, divisive voices that
want to divide the country along religious lines. They make incendiary
statements and incite violent behaviour – we’ve seen this over beef and Ghulam