Tere maathe pe yeh aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin/tu is aanchal se ik parcham bana leti to achchha tha
This veil on your head looks very pretty but it will be better if you were to make it a flag. This is how (Asrar ul Haq) Majaz, a student in Aligarh who later became famous for his romantic poetry, counselled women students of his alma mater.
Despite these exhortations, social norms remained rigid and oppressive for Muslim women. And the most oppressive feature of the law that governed their marital lives was that it gave a Muslim man an unrestrained right to divorce his wife with three simple pronouncements of talaq in one sitting.
In fact, even more oppressive was the fact that a Muslim girl grew up with the consciousness that after marriage, her husband would have the right to turn her out of her marital home through instant talaq, without letting her know the reasons thereof. In case the suffering woman chose to protest or seek some relief under existing laws like Section 125 of CrPC (The Code of Criminal Procedure), then there were cleric organisations like the Muslim Personal Law Board which would defend this obnoxious practice in the name of freedom of religion and special identity of the community.
And in case the courts gave the verdict in favour of the oppressed woman, then they would start an aggressive protest movement through which they would use violent and threatening language to compel the government to reverse the judgment through a Parliamentary legislation.
Almost every Muslim country has legally prohibited triple talaq that was being defended by the Personal Law Board and their supporters. But we must acknowledge the fact that by the time the hearing on triple talaq in the Supreme Court had come to conclusion and the Personal Law Board had sensed the general mood, they made a request to the Honourable Court seeking permission to file an additional affidavit and they were allowed to do so.
In this later affidavit, they admitted that the practice of triple talaq is an innovation, it is an unjust practice and that they themselves plan to launch a campaign against it. They requested the court not to intervene but admitted that the government and Parliament have the right to reform through legislation.
The Personal Law Board is a body of clerics, and history shows that they take longer than normal to move ahead with the times. I refer to the famous speech of Mustafa Kamal Pasha, the leader of Turkey who blamed the Muslim clergy for the social and educational backwardness of the community.
He said that in 1450, we stood against world opinion and annexed Constantinople into Turkey as historically, it belonged to us — the capture of the Byzantine capital by the Ottomans in May 1453. But around the same time, we could not stand up to the opinion of one man — the Sheikh-ul Islam of Turkey who had declared that the printing press is prohibited in Islam. This ban on the printing press remained in operation for almost the next two hundred years, resulting in a vast gap in the educational status of Muslim and non-Muslim societies.
In the name of freedom of religion, I have the right to profess, practice and preach what I believe in. But this right to religion does not give me a licence to indulge in oppression and suppression of any other person. I have the right to practice my faith, I do not have the right to indulge in practices which are injurious to the health of others.
Secondly, the right to religion is a personal and individual right available even to non-citizens who happen to be in India. It is not a communitarian right which should accommodate practices that are repugnant to good sense and human dignity. The practice of triple talaq robs Muslim women both their dignity and equality as Indian citizens and, without doubt, is highly oppressive in nature.
In Prophetic tradition, it has been asserted that a dominion or society can coexist with disbelief but it cannot exist if its members practice oppression against each other. Oppression has been described as Fitnah and it is a religious obligation to fight against oppression.
The judgment of the Supreme Court holding that triple talaq is arbitrary and, therefore, unconstitutional is a relief to the suffering women but it is difficult today to make a realistic assessment of the tremendous impact that it would have on our social and national life in years to come. The verdict has sent not only a powerful message of gender equality but women empowerment as well. From our experience, we can say that even when laws are changed, habits take much longer time to adjust.
Soon we will hear about cases where a man makes three pronouncements and the wife refuses to go, saying that this pronouncement carries no legal sanction. And if she chooses to report the matter to police, then it will be a fit case for prosecution under provisions dealing with harassment and mental torture.
This judgment will change the lives of not only Muslim women who despite heavy odds have fought and won this long arduous battle but will inspire other Indian women as well who are facing discrimination at home or at places of work. Their faith in our Constitution and judicial system will be redoubled and now they will fight back any oppression with more vigour and energy.