By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
28 August 2017
Instant triple Talaq, which is a Muslim man’s right to divorce his wife unilaterally in one sitting is now history. The highest court of the country has ruled it as unconstitutional and as violative of the right to equality. Understandably, there is a sense of jubilation among all those Muslim men and women who campaigned against the practice of instant triple Talaq. The organizations like Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and scores of other Muslim women must be congratulated for having a sustained campaign on the issue for such a long time and having faced numerous difficulties not just from different governments but also from the leaders of the Muslim community. From being called as agents of the Hindutva brigade to being dubbed as not Muslim enough, these women have bravely fought prejudices and acerbic taunts from members of their own community and stood steadfast in their belief that it is high that the Muslim personal law be reformed.
It is interesting to note that voices to reform the Muslim law on divorce has a much older genealogy than what is normally conceded. Way back in 1920s, the All India Muslim Ladies Conference, in one of its annual conferences had raised the issue of instant triple Talaq. Their argument then was similar to the argument that Muslim women’s organization are making today. The All India Muslim Ladies Conference was the first women’s organization to campaign against oral triple Talaq and laid down rules what they believed was the correct Quranic practice of divorce. They drew up a model Nikahnama which laid down the rules of divorce. Men had to give a valid reason for divorcing their wives. There would be provisions for maintenance made in case the divorce gets effective. Moreover, they argued that the Nikahnama gave limitless power to the women to dictate terms and conditions to the prospective groom and only when the groom accepts in writing that he would be fulfilling those demands that the Nikah would take place. One clause in the Nikahnama was that in case the husband takes another wife without the permission of the wife, then the earlier marriage will automatically get dissolved. Thus there were conditions to make polygamy difficult and exceptional within Muslim households. The appeal of the Muslims Ladies Conference was extremely limited as remained confined to the feudal and elite circles or the ‘enlightened’ Muslim gentry of Bhopal and Hyderabad. It never became a mass phenomenon. The partition gave a death blow to this initiative as most of the campaigners became Pakistanis in an instant and there was hardly leadership left for Indian Muslim women.
Organizations like the BMMA draw upon such an older tradition of Muslim reform but it must be said to the credit of BMMA that for the first time it made the issue of reforming personal laws into a Muslim mass phenomenon. Thus when the Supreme Court declared that instant triple Talaq was invalid, it was responding to the demands raised by millions of Muslim women in India. For the first time perhaps, we have a genuine mass movement among Muslim women which is desirous of change and making demands by virtue of being citizens of this country. The question is whether they will stop at instant triple Talaq or will it just be one of one of the many campaigns that women’s group will take up. Already organizations like the BMMA is arguing that they next step is going to campaign for comprehensive gender just law for Muslims personal laws in this country. They are perhaps right in calling this as a victory but a very small one at that.
They are right. It took seventy years for this country to outlaw a system of divorce which was manifestly anti-women and drove them to destitution. And what has been declared illegal is just instant triple, not the system of unilateral divorce as practice by Muslims. In divorce proceedings, Muslim men continue to have the right of unilateral divorce and there is a need to make it more gender just. Similarly, there should be a campaign to make polygamy illegal as it is an abhorrence in today’s times. Will the BMMA and other such organizations will be willing to take up the challenge, only time will tell. But going by their commitment and enthusiasm it is reasonable to suggest that they will not stop at this victory.
It is rather unfortunate that despite the Supreme Court ruling there are sections within the Muslims who think it is a conspiracy to defame their religion and they confuse the Muslim personal law with a divine law. The statement of the Jamiat Ulema e Hind suggesting that they would not follow Supreme Court verdict only goes on to say how much faith they have in the Indian judiciary. For them, as for a majority of religious fundamentalists, the matter is very simple: if the courts rule in their favour then they would hail the verdict, but if the law goes against then, the judiciary becomes a pawn in the hands of ‘vested interests’. People like Madani bring shame to the Muslim community and people like him are responsible for making the community a sitting target for the Hindu Right wing forces who quickly announce to the world that Muslims do not believe in the Indian nation, far less the judiciary. Unfortunately people like Madani have disproportionate clout within the Muslim community. Reports coming in after the verdict suggest that the petitioners and those campaigning against instant triple Talaq are facing social boycott from within their families and the larger community. This tells us about the pitiable state of the community who it seems want to be in a perpetual state of backwardness and are alright to be members of a community which is accused of being warped on issues of gender justice.
The fight must go on. Till the time organizations like All India Muslim Personal Law Board become redundant within the Muslim society. This fight has to be taken forward by all right thinking Muslim men and women. But it is also important to underline that Muslim women’s organizations like the BMMA must be at the forefront of such a struggle. It is heartening to note that a number of progressive Muslim men have supported the BMMA, but their efforts should be limited to supporting these movements and not becoming the leaders of the movement. Lastly but not the least, it is astonishing to see the silence of the left and liberals on the issue of social reform amongst Muslims. At least they should have come out in open support of organizations like the BMMA. Their muted response goes a long way to suggest that their ideas about Islam and Muslims are completely hazy and warped. Silently, Muslim women have marched together to claim their just space as Indian citizens. Triple Talaq was is just one stop in their long march to demolish the many citadels of male privilege legitimated through a misogynistic reading of Islam.
Arshad Alam is a columnist with www.NewAgeIsalm.com
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