A postcard from Dr Niaz: Muslim women should get equal rights as citizens

Islam believes in equality, justice and compassion. We speak about a god who is merciful and beneficent.

Written by Noorjehan Safia Niaz | Mumbai | Updated: January 7, 2016 7:28 am

By Dr Noorjehan Safia Niaz

There are 61 lakh Muslim women who constitute nearly 5.5 per cent of the state’s population. From Shah Bano case in 1985 till date, Muslim women have never been heard in matters concerning their lives thanks to politics in our country. Certain patriarchal males dominated the debate on rights of Muslim women and have stonewalled attempts towards reform within the community.

In the process, Muslim women have been denied their Quranic rights as well as their rights as equal Indian citizens. Muslim countries world over such as Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and even Bangladesh and Pakistan in our neighborhood have codified personal laws governing marriage and family. Indian Muslims are denied this opportunity. As a result, we see instances of triple talaq and polygamy in our society.

Islam believes in equality, justice and compassion. We speak about a god who is merciful and beneficent.

However, there is a conservative section which is increasingly becoming influential and coming out with the most conservative interpretation of Islam. It was this mindset which stopped the entry of women at Haji Ali in Mumbai. We are fighting a legal case in this regard but it would help society at large if the government uses its clout in stopping this patriarchy that occurs in religious places. We realise issues related to Muslim Personal Law are more related with the central government. However, there is a need for the state to use its offices in ensuring reform in personal laws of communities.

In November, the Supreme Court bench of Justice Anil Dave and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel had asked the government of India whether gender discrimination suffered by Muslim women should be considered a violation of the rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution and international covenants.

BMMA has through multiple consultations involving thousands of Muslim women, lawyers, religious scholars prepared a draft Muslim Family Law based on Quranic tenets. These are in consonance with the Constitution of India. Given below are some important provisions of this draft.

> Minimum age of marriage 18 for girl and and 21 for boy.

> Minimum mehr to be equivalent of one full annual income of the groom to be paid at the time of nikaah

>Talaak-e-Ahsan to be method of divorce requiring mandatory arbitration over a 90 day period; Oral unilateral divorce to be declared illegal.

> Maintenance during marriage is the responsibility of husband even if wife has an independent source of income and as per the Muslim Women’s Protection on Divorce Act, 1986

> Polygamy to be declared illegal

We believe that as head of the state deemed as the most progressive in the country you should see merit in opposition to introduce the Uniform Civil Code without taking into account the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. Besides, every community, including Hindus would like to follow their text pertaining to kanyadaan & saptapadi provisions and therefore may not accept the new guidelines.

Article 25 the Constitution gives the right to all to have personal laws based on respective tenets of different religious communities. Under this provision, we demand a gender just reform in the Muslim personal law based on Quranic values of equality and justice. The SC observation has emanated from the need to bring about a gender-just legal framework. I hope unlike the beef ban, you will not encourage Hinduisation of all laws and social practices in our state.

Dr Noorjehan Safia Niaz is co-founder, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.

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