By Shazia Ilmi
August 3, 2018
While the ‘Nirbhaya’ and ‘Kathua’ incidents shock the collective conscience of our nation – as they should – it is those that happen within the dubious sanctity of cultural mores that elude our conscience.
A woman from Bareilly is raped multiple times by her father-in-law and then her brother-in-law at the behest of her husband, who justifies her degradation by citing ‘Nikah Halala’. One’s memory inadvertently brings to the fore a certain Imrana, who was declared ‘Haram’ for her husband by the purveyors of faith – Deoband seminary – in 2005 after she was raped by her father-in-law.
The most disquieting and alarming circumstance before us is the ease with which we have accepted such episodes as a religious community, acquiescing to, and even justifying such monstrous pseudo-Islamic clerical and societal acts of brutality. Even though a basic reading of the largest chapter in the Quran, Surah Baqarah, should have convinced us once and for all that not only was the ill-fated Talaq-e-Biddat (triple Talaq) of the victim not validated by the Quran, but that, even if the couple had separated, not once but twice, she could have still remarried her former husband with a mere re-solemnisation of Nikah!
But this obfuscation of the Quran sits well, most shockingly, in the conscience and conversation of most of our clergymen, and has unfortunately become the norm even for the literate and well-settled Muslim community who will immediately rush to separate couples out of wedlock as ‘Haram’ or taboo to each other, at the slightest hint of a talaq pronouncement, in direct violation of the Quran and Islam. In most such instances the Quran is obeyed in the breach, and our educated, seemingly well-meaning ‘Muashra’ (society) routinely ignores Quranic instructions, thereby killing the essence and substance of Islam, even before the clerical vultures move in.
We are all sickened by the fatwa against Nida Khan for her campaign against triple Talaq by Shahar Imam Mufti Khurshid Alam, who has exhorted the community to deny her medicine if she were to fall ill, and refused even a grave and Namaz at her ‘Janaza’ (funeral procession)!
While the notorious All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) vociferously advocates ‘Sharia courts’, their representatives like Mufti Aijaz Qasmi are seen brazenly abusing and beating a woman lawyer on national television in an ugly altercation, the visuals of which will be permanently ingrained in public memory.
Vote bank politics hasn’t helped the cause of justice. The track record of AIMPLB since the Shah Bano case is only too well known. It was this body that pressurised Rajiv Gandhi to issue the ordinance overturning the landmark SC judgment which granted the constitutional right of 75 year old Shah Bano, left destitute by her husband, to seek basic financial maintenance.
The unwavering political support of Congress to this perpetuation of an un-Quranic, unconstitutional practice such as Talaq-e-Biddat is shocking. One wonders why some zealous Islamists would seek to enforce Sharia or Islamic law in a democracy like India – imagine the horrors of limb amputations and beheadings a community would force upon itself! And how many of us would be willing to give up our bank interest and everyday secular choices!
Like all other citizens Indian Muslims follow the Indian Penal Code for all civil and criminal disputes. Why does the narrative of their faith being in peril arise only in matters of family law? If they see Supreme Court intervention as an infringement of their community rights, then will their next step be to challenge the entire Penal Code including the Criminal Procedure Act which is obviously not in consonance with Islamic law as practised in theocratic states?
The rot is deep, but justice must not elude the victims of triple Talaq and Nikah Halala forever. Actually 22 August, 2017 will stand out in the annals of Muslim Personal Law in India, as a day of constitutional justice for the innumerable victims of arbitrary clerical rulings and Fatwas. On that day a five judge bench of the Supreme Court took the bull by the horns, extricated the truth from the scriptures, and declared unilateral divorce practised as Talaq-e-Biddat unconstitutional and un-Islamic.
The Indian judiciary has adjudicated with remarkable depth and sensitivity while interpreting the Quran, even while upholding the values of the Constitution. Conversely, the multitude of mullahs, imams and Qazis, constituting a self-anointed club of Islamic scholars representing different schools of Islamic jurisprudence, dish out their own concoctions of Islamic justice.
Now there is no going back to personal law courts, Darul Qazas, or the age of ignorance. The most fundamental pillar of our democracy, the Indian judiciary, will uphold justice to the last woman standing.
When Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweets about standing with the last person in the line, the “exploited, marginalised and the persecuted” he refers to also include this brutalised Muslim woman. I hope he will stand with her.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.