The Centre filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court last week supporting Shayara Bano’s plea against the practices of talaq-e-bidat (instantaneous triple talaq), nikah halala (prohibition on remarriage with the divorced husband without consumating marriage with another man) and polygamy. It referred to constitutional principles like gender equality and secularism, and cited international covenants, religious practices and marital law prevalent in various Islamic countries to emphasise that the practices need to be re-looked at by the court. Shayara Bano’s petition challenges these practices as being violative of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, particularly Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25, which are concerned with the right to equality, protection against discrimination on grounds of sex or religion, protection of life and personal liberty and freedom of religion respectively. A slew of progressive Muslims groups and secular bodies have also come out in support of Shayara Bano in the court.
Entrenched political interests tend to assume custodianship of community interests, feeding on real and imagined fears, and invite maximalist positions. Moreover, the pursuit of reform of Muslim personal laws has far too often been guided by the exigencies of electoral politics. In such a context, the onus of proving its good intentions is on the government. It needs to tread very carefully, while addressing the disquiet among sections of the Muslim community on a fraught question.