Muslim women and women’s groups working to strike off the practice of pronouncing talaq in one sitting, across the country, have hailed the judgement of the Supreme Court in the Shayara Bano case as historic and welcomed it. While there have been a number of critiques of the text of this judgement by lawyers and academics alike, one cannot ignore or disregard the struggles of ordinary Muslim women, who took it upon themselves to get rid of the evil of instant triple talaq, fought their battle and won!
The support from various quarters, that is from other women’s groups, from committed media persons etc. has aided these women. Although the practice was termed as ‘unconstitutional’ by only two of the five judges, the ratio of 3:2 in favour of declaring the practice of instant triple talaq as invalid has come as a relief to all.
There have been attempts to confuse this fight with that of a demand for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) or of aiding the right with its agenda of maligning Muslims as backward who need to be ‘saved’. Many liberals and academics, including lawyers and activists, have been very critical of the battle to end triple talaq, basing their criticism on the appropriation of the cause by the right. It is imperative to note and emphasise here that, it is the struggle of women alone which has led to this historic win and it is grossly unfair to take the credit of their struggle away from them.
So far the debate on reforms from within and the UCC had been situated inside the paradigm of politics with gender concerns, the most widely used scapegoat by all sides for their own benefits. The battle between enactment of a UCC by the political right or its various factions for governing diverse communities as a single entity, on one hand and the resolve on maintenance of status quo, fearing loss of religious identity, by patriarchal male leaders belonging to religious minorities on the other, has had the worst impact on Muslim women.
However, this status quo is now being questioned and the quest for reforms from within, with the demand of codification of the largely uncodified Muslim law, has already begun. After the Shayara Bano Judgement, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the petitioners in the case, released a draft Muslim Family Law. BMMA has been working on this draft for over seven years now. It has been prepared after consultations with the community, lawyers, Islamic Scholars and Muslim Women.
Zakia Soman, one of the founding members of the Andolan at the release of the draft welcomed comments and suggestions from all and said that the next step would be to move towards a codification of Muslim Family laws, the ambiguous nature of which so far has been the cause of suffering for many Muslim Women. She emphasised on the need for a gender just codification based on Quranic injunctions and on the need for reforms from within.
Muslim Family Law in India is largely uncodified resulting in various kinds of interpretations being adopted whenever a case/issue arises. It is therefore important for there to be a codification based on Quranic injunctions so that when questions of marriage, divorce, inheritance etc. arise, there is no scope of patriarchal interpretations, which has been the case so far.
There has been a constant conversation on whether there is a need to address issues pertaining to family laws when there are other issues concerning the community that need immediate attention. Media articles targeting organizations who have raised issues which have been taken up by certain political parties as well, even though these organizations do not align with any political parties, also creates a sense of mistrust among the community and makes the already difficult road, even harder to tread. It is important to mention here that organizations like BMMA also work with Muslim women on the ground on issues such as livelihood, gender, education etc. which often gets ignored by the media and others alike.
The judgement delivered on the 22nd of August may have its critics and could have also addressed a number of issues like polygamy or the correct method of divorce etc. which it did not. However, it brought happiness to the petitioners, who were ordinary Muslim women fighting injustice. Afreen from Rajasthan, one of the five petitioners told me she wished the court dealt with polygamy, but irrespective, she is very happy that it has done away with instant triple talaq. ‘My husband sent me a divorce intimation by post, divorcing me instantly. This will not happen to my other sisters now. I am very happy,’ she said.