“The times they are a-changin’” sang Bob Dylan many years ago. But, unfortunately, hundreds of Indian Muslim women, who have been victims of the instant triple talaq practice, seem to be caught in a time warp controlled and dominated by an anti-progressive patriarchal society. It is truly shocking that an abhorrent practice like triple talaq, which has been banned in many countries, still finds support in India. Islamic scholars and women’s organisations have held that the practice has no religious or Quranic sanction and yet the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) is opposing any attempt at reform as an interference in religious matters. Irrespective of whether the AIMPLB has a huge following among the Muslim community or not, such bodies should be at the forefront of championing the cause of vulnerable sections like women, instead of allowing them to be exploited using retrograde and arbitrary practices like triple talaq.
Apparently, the advocates of triple talaq are using specious arguments to perpetuate the anachronistic practice unconcerned by the havoc it is causing in the lives of its victims, even as some of them knocked at the doors of the judiciary for relief. In the name of plurality or diversity, how could Indian Muslim women be denied equal status and dignity available to them under the Constitution?
Why should Indian Muslim women be denied their fundamental rights in a secular country like India when several Islamic countries have abolished triple talaq and polygamy? How could such draconian practices be allowed in India when matrimonial laws in Islamic countries were regulated and not considered contrary to Sharia? Here, I would like to recall that my colleague, Arun Jaitley, had earlier asserted that personal laws could not propagate discrimination and allow compromise with human dignity and that religion cannot dictate upon the rights of individuals. It should also be noted that successive governments have amended personal laws of Hindus and Christians in tune with the demands of the changing times and false propaganda is being propounded that a particular religion is being targeted.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) also termed triple talaq as an un-Quranic practice and has stressed that it needed to be abolished by law. In a letter written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November last year, the co-founders of BMMA, Noorjehan Safia Niaz and Zakia Soman, have mentioned that they had just published national research with a primary sample of 4,710 Muslim women across 10 states in which 92.1 per cent of women wanted a total ban on oral/unilateral divorce and 91.7 per cent were opposed to polygamy.
In an article written for a news portal, the duo has argued: “Triple talaq, happens not because of religion but, patriarchy and power play masquerading as religion. It is important that ordinary Muslim women and men are educated about the Quranic principles of justice and fairness concerning divorce. It is important that everybody learns about triple talaq being un-Quranic. Only then can these false notions manufactured by the conservative patriarchal bodies be exposed for what they are — un-Quranic and unjustified.”
Noted expert on Muslim Law, Tahir Mahmood, has also come out in favour of banning triple talaq. In a foreword written by him to the report published on talaq by the BMMA, while referring to the Islamic law of divorce, he said: “In its original unadulterated form it indeed was rational, realistic and modern but has by efflux of time been awfully distorted beyond recognition. There is nothing in the law of Islam suggesting that the husband is free to exercise the power of talaq in an arbitrary and irrational manner. But this is exactly what Muslim men in our times are doing”.
It has also been reported that more than 50,000 Indian women and men have signed a petition spearheaded by the BMMA seeking a total ban on triple talaq.
Here, I would emphasise that Article 14 and Article 15 are crucial and important features of the Indian Constitution. They embody the core values of India’s democracy. Article 14 provides equality before law. It states: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”, while Article 15 states : “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”. It should be noted that any practice that leaves women socially, financially or emotionally vulnerable is incompatible with the letter and spirit of Articles 14 and 15.
As mentioned earlier, when several countries have reformed the personal laws, it is fallacious to argue that the courts have no jurisdiction to decide on them. The incredible justification advanced by the so-called guardians of the rights of Muslims in the name of religious freedom is a clear denigration of not only Muslim women, but women at large and humanity.
These defenders of inequality and exploitation of women have publicly declared that neither the Supreme Court nor the Indian Constitution has any jurisdiction in coming to the rescue of such hapless women on the ground that triple talaq is derived from the Sharia. If the Sharia is so immutable, why did several Muslim countries come out with modern laws seeking to protect women from such exploitation?
To say that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to decide on such matters is simply unacceptable. Any verdict or direction by the highest court of the land is binding on everybody irrespective of religion, region, sex and caste and nobody should talk in any manner that undermines the dignity of the judiciary. It is unfortunate that some political parties, in their quest to safeguard their vote banks, did not even think once before brazenly supporting such regressive, retrograde and anti-women practices.
No doubt, reform should come from within the religious community. That was why Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati and others reformed Hindu religious practices. Over the years, Hindu religious practices have undergone substantial change and reform.
So, what is the way forward? The only way forward is to discuss and prevent continued exploitation of women by taking necessary measures wherever required. That is what the Law Commission of India is seized of and has sought opinions from stakeholders and the public. The Commission in its questionnaire not on ly referred to the practice of triple talaq but also to the right of inheritance of Hindu women and Maitri Karar, being practised in Gujarat. So how could anybody allege that the exercise targets only one religion? An attempt is also being made to create confusion among people by linking up the issue of triple talaq with that of the Uniform Civil Code. The main issue as regards triple talaq is to end gender discrimination and ensure gender justice and equal rights.
Let there be a wider debate on this critical issue. Distorting scriptures and defending exploitation of women in the guise of celebrating diversity should be stopped forthwith. The need of the hour is to collectively address this issue. It goes without saying that all social, cultural and religious practices that do not stand the scrutiny of the law of equality should change. That is the only way India could transform into a modern, prosperous nation.