The regressive and patriarchal mindset of the All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) was on full display at the press conference which was called to announce its move to oppose the Law Commission’s questionnaire on Uniform Civil Code. Stating that if such a law comes to force, it will paint all people in “one colour” and will threaten the diversity of the nation, it declared that it will boycott the commission’s move. The Board also accused the government of waging a “war” against the community.
The reactionary politics of the Board is the most flawed way to approach a pertinent issue that women has been facing for long. To begin with, the 16 questions sent out by the Law Commission are not restricted to the practice of one community. They are means to elicit responses from citizens on banning practices that are considered backward from all three major religions. The Board should have seen it as a way to engage with the lawmakers and people from the Muslim community to get an understanding of the issue. Instead the Board chose to flout all democratic norms and announced its decision to uphold the Sharia law at any cost.
It even went on to say that “women were one on this issue.” This, despite the findings of an independent survey which said 92% of Muslim women in India are against the draconian practice of triple talaq. The arbitrary approach of the clerics also sums up how the voices of Muslim women are suppressed by the male members of the community. Women are denied the right to a dignified life where they can exercise their choice. The balance of power that is tilted in favour of one section robs the other of any integrity.
The argument that is often put forth by the clerics in favour of triple talaq is that the Constitution of India guarantees under Article 25 the right to minorities to practice their own personal laws. Here the fact that constitution is a document that should be seen in totality is conveniently forgotten and the rights to equality guaranteed under Article 14 and 15 go unmentioned.
Even more appalling is the fact that the Board that had once described the practice of talaq-ul-biddat which is the uttering of talaq thrice at one go a “criminal act” and an “act of innovation” is going back on its own words. It also needs to be noted that talaq-ul-biddat is an Islamic law and does not find mention in Quran. In fact, it is a custom that rose out of the social and economic conditions in Arabia centuries ago. It is believed that this practice was condemned by the prophet himself.
The other practice of talaq-al-ahsan which is widely practiced by the Shia communities is more humane with the three talaqs pronounced over a period of time following strict procedures to protect the interests of the women. But with widespread misinterpretation, this is seldom followed and triple talaq remains the sword of Damocles for women.
It is a matter of debate why the Board that supposedly stands for the interests of Muslims is not even open for negotiations on the matter. Is it the inherent patriarchy or the vote bank politics? The answer in all probability is both. In the 1985 Shah Bano Begum case, the then Rajiv Gandhi government succumbed to the pressure from mullahs and reversed the progressive judgment of the Supreme Court to deny her right to alimony. It can only be hoped that the law-makers will be sensible this time around and will take the right decision. It needs to be kept in mind that 21 Islamic nations have taken the bold step of regulating their personal laws to ensure equality in the society. It is time for Muslim women in India to stand up against this oppressive practice and realize the goal of placing men and women on an equal footing. Only then can a society truly advance.