Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ban on triple talaq a half-victory for Indian Muslim women

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Many people get perplexed thinking how a secular nation like India and the largest democracy in the world took more than 70 years to get justice to her Muslim women who have been trapped in a vicious circle of instant triple talaq, when some of the theocratic countries, the total numbers are 22, regulated their Muslim Personal Law decades ago! Indian Muslims are the second largest people, comprising of many diverse ethnic groups, who are well entrenched in their archaic mindsets and also patriarchal male-dominated bodies, persuade their women that instant triple talaq is their destiny given by the Holy Scriptures.

The hapless and helpless women accept their destiny of triple talaq given over the phone, oral, text messages, what's up, and what not? A married woman is thrown on the street over a phone call even from abroad. Suddenly, a married woman, who was totally dependent on her husband, ends up on the streets with her kids. Here the divorced woman is the victim of an instant talaq. The husband who pronounces the instant talaq takes no responsibilities of his children or ex-wife.

India has been a secular country since her independence from the British Raj. In a secular country, everyone has the right to exercise their religion and rituals. But Muslims in India have been governed by the Muslim Personal Law that came into force in 1937. Muslim social life such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and family relations should be governed by the Muslim Personal Law. So the first prime minister of India said there was no hurry getting involved in Muslim Personal Law, and also because the issue belonged to the minority Muslims.

The issue was again raised in the 1960s and then again in 1986 at the time of Rajiv Gandhi but nothing happened. It was a sensitive issue for the Muslims. So no governments involved face the mammoth task of getting the Muslim Personal Law regulated.

The Muslim male-dominated society also warned the government not to interfere with their Personal Muslim Law. A vast number of Muslims have been educationally, economically, and socially lagging far behind Hindus. So the Muslim clerics have been misleading their women in the name of Muslim Personal Law.

They say that the government has no right to interfere with the Muslim Personal Law. There is no codified Muslim Personal Law in India either. So some Muslims men have been abusing their wives, pronouncing instant triple talaq and throwing them on the street. The Muslim men who want to dominate their women in the name of Muslim Personal Law did not want their law to be re-written by the country's apex court and parliament.

Muslim clerics do not want a change in Muslim Personal Law as well. All India Muslims Personal Law Board is against Supreme Court's banning instant triple talaq. They are always any reforms and regulations against Muslim Personal Law. They say this issue could be solved by discussing it with all the affected parties when a legal dispute comes up.

It was the Muslim women community that has been suffering and fighting against the triple talaq. The Bharatiya Muslim Andolan survey, 2015 says that 92% Muslim women in India want oral triple talaq banned. 91.7 Muslim women are against polygamy says the same survey. The triple talaq is discriminatory that goes against Muslim women. According to Muslim women activists, this practice goes against fundamental rights and women's dignity. There should be no rooms for an instant talaq in a secular nation like India.

Triple talaq was both a religious and political issue.The BJP government played a leading and strong role because it was an election promise of the party against this issue. The Congress party did not want to antagonize Muslims because it considers the Muslim community as a vote bank but did nothing about instant talaq.

But BJP, which believes India, is an inherently Hindu country, vowed to bring an end to this controversial practice. BJP also played the Muslim women vote bank as a political issue against the Congress' Muslim vote bank policy. So in the last election, a vast majority of Muslim women voted for BJP which vowed to the Muslims women, to abolish this practice after being elected. All the women groups, irrespective of their faiths, say the practice of triple talaq should be banned in India as it is repressive and disgraceful for Muslim women.

Now BJP has been fulfilling its commitment given to the Muslim women. According to the political analysts, the Modi government should be given kudos in helping the Muslim women and activists to get triple talaq banned. Some opine that the Congress party as anti-Muslim women but pro-Muslim men.

When all the major parties resented their inertia and lack of interest in this regard, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan took the initiative to get the instant talaq banned with two other issues that were nikah halala and polygamy before the apex court. But the top court chose to hear only instant triple talaq. The Muslim women activists also petitioned the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Muslim Personal Law. The Supreme Court asked the government's view and the government took a strong stand opposing the triple talaq.

The three judges out of the five from different religions gave the ''historic verdict'' saying instant talaq was wrong, arbitrary immoral, and draconian and quashed it as unconstitutional saying an instant talaq put a woman in a venerable condition.

From now on, whoever pronounces an instant triple talaq will be imprisoned for three years. Observers say that 90 million Muslim women have been celebrating over the banning of triple talaq. It seems that the apex court's verdict gives Muslim women on an equal footing to men. They fought for their right and won it. The Muslim Law Board says it is wrong for a Muslim man to pronounce an instant triple talaq but opposes Supreme Court, government, and parliament's intervention into their matter. From now on, it will be unconstitutional for a man to pronounce a talaq instantly. This will apply to all states except Jammu and Kashmir

All the leading women organizations hailed this as ''landmark verdict''. The Muslim women suffered a lot for a long time. Now it is a win for the Indian Muslim women but not a big win. It is a new era for them and they have a long way to go because this battle is half done.

They will have to fight against nikah halala, a regressive practice, which is the most exploitive practice committed by some Muslim clerics. And then there is an issue of polygamy. Some Indian maulvis are indulging in nikah halala for sex and money. This is ridiculous when a man can have more than one wife, using the Muslim Personal Law in a secular country. Inheritance laws should be regulated as well. The whole system needs to be overhauled and reformed.

Some critics, who oppose the idea of giving a rigid- punishment for uttering an instant talaq, say that maybe, a Muslim minority man will politically be harassed in a triple talaq case. The family members who are dependent on the man, who gives an instant talaq, will be suffering from financial constraint and other difficulties in the absence of their breadwinner. They say that some Muslim men are going to be demonized and be harassed politically for giving such an instant talaq.

It is a non-bailable offence. A three-year imprisonment for a violator is too harsh and also a 90-day reconciliation period will be gone, if the husband is put on jail. The custody of the children will be given to the mother, but what if the mother is mentally challenged?

A Muslim woman who is a victim of an instant triple talaq will be receiving a subsistence allowance for her and children. It is a victory for all Indian Muslim women because everyone who is affected by the triple talaq will be receiving some sorts of help from the new policy. All the past Indian governments gave in to the patriarchal elements by not trying to take an initiative to reform or regulate the Muslim Personal Law.

Some observers say the instant talaq ban will usher in a new era with the beginning of a complete reform of the Muslim Personal Law. The All India Muslim Personal Board said the government was wrong in interfering in their law. They also condemned the Supreme Court for passing such a judgment on this issue.

All the Muslim clerics and leaders opposed the triple talaq bill. All the leftist parties were in favour of the bill. But recently, the Lok Sabha or The Lower House of India's bicameral Parliament has passed the Anti-triple talaq bill that is going to bring some justice to Muslim women. The Congress supported the bill but it has some issues regarding the criminality clauses. It seems the Modi government's stand on this issue is praiseworthy

The writer, a Bangladeshi freethinker, is based in Toronto, Canada

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