BHOPAL: A couple of petitions filed by Muslim women, against the practice of triple talaq, which are being heard by the Supreme Court, have kicked up a big controversy.

In simple words, ‘triple talaq’ means that a Muslim man can divorce his wife by uttering the Urdu word ‘Talaq’ thrice.

The central government has filed an affidavit in the SC, which argues against the practice of triple talaq and polygamy. The government says the two practices are incompatible with the ideal of women’s equality, which the Indian state espouses.  The Law Commission has circulated a questionnaire inviting the opinion of people on the matters pertaining to Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The general impression is that the ruling party is trying to push forward its agenda of UCC.

The All India Muslim Personal Board (AIMPLB), a body of conservative Muslims, is up in arms against the move. It says the government’s interference in the religious affairs of the community is not acceptable. The Board has launched a nationwide drive to collect signatures of people against the government move while the women’s rights groups, led by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) have come up with a counter-campaign.

The debate on UCC has been raging since independence.  Though one often hears the term Uniform Civil Code in public discourse, its meaning is little understood.

Currently, there are number of family laws like Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, Christian Marriage Act and Parsee Marriage and Divorce Act to govern communities in matters related to marriage, divorce, succession and inheritance, maintenance, custody of children and adoption. A Uniform Civil Code would replace all these family laws with one law.

In the constituent assembly, after a long debate the conclusion reached was that the state should strive to achieve UCC. This was included in the directive principles of state policy and not as a fundamental right. Article 44 of the Constitution says, “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”.

Though it sounds simple, the proposition of UCC is fraught with many problems. Today the clamour for UCC is mainly coming from the Sangh Parivar.

One step towards UCC was the introduction of the Hindu code bill by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. Ambedkar in the Parliament. When the Hindu Code Bill was tabled, it was opposed vehemently by the Hindu Mahasabha leaders. The Bill tried to reform the Hindu law by abolishing polygamy amongst Hindus, laid down procedures for divorce and gave rights to daughters equal to that of widows and sons in the inheritance of father’s property. This Bill didn’t go down well with the opposition as well some of the Congress leaders forcing Dr. Ambedkar to resign as the law minister.

It is surprising that now the Hindu nationalist organisations want a UCC on the grounds of justice to women, when they rejected limited rights for Hindu women in the form of the Hindu Code Bill. The Hindu nationalists, who resisted reforms in laws applicable to the Hindus, now want to become champions of the cause of Muslim women’s rights and draft a UCC.

It is absurd to think that for UCC will result in national integration and unity. The United States of America, which is considered  an example of a united and integrated nation, has 50 different family laws, and also criminal laws as there are 50 states. Having a common law doesn’t necessarily ensure national integration. National unity is not hampered by pluralism.

There are two groups of people articulating for reform in laws amongst Muslims.   Among them is the BMMA, which holds that the present practice of triple talaq is un-Islamic. There are many scholars of Islam who hold that the practice has no place in the Koran. They, along with many other Muslim women’s groups, have been ceaselessly campaigning for just and equal rights for Muslim women.

The second group, which is very vocal about justice to Muslim women, is that of the RSS combine. But can one forget that it’s their politics which leads to violence against religious minorities. They were at forefront of opposing Hindu Code Bill. They constantly raise issues like Ram Temple and Holy Cow. Their intentions are suspect.

The myths that are propagated by the BJP in support of the UCC include that the Hindu women are liberated and have achieved equality through the reforms in Hindu family laws.

The fact, however, is that the Hindu laws are neither gender just nor uniform. The property of a Hindu woman who dies without a will is handled differently from that of a man. In the absence of spouse and children, the husband’s heirs inherit the woman’s estate. Women are still not equal guardians of their children. Hindu woman has no right to adopt a child on her own while her husband can adopt without her consent. She cannot be the natural guardian of her children during the life of her husband.

In India, there is not only diversity in terms of religions but also within each religious community. For instance, the Adivasi communities have their own customary practices governing them which give more rights to women regarding marriage and divorce than caste Hindus. Adivasi women, for example, find it cumbersome to follow the law which is practiced in courts of law and instead prefer their customary practices like approaching the Adivasi council or panch for settling intra-family property disputes.

 Hindu nationalists, on the other hand, project Muslim women as discriminated and victimised by practices like triple talaq and polygamy. They prescribe UCC to be a savior of Muslim women. There is no doubt that women experience oppression and discrimination on account of social structures and institutions, religion being one of them. However by discarding a legal system based on religious tenets is not the answer to address the issue of gender inequality. There is a need of reform within family laws. Women must have equal participation and decision making in the process of this reform. The key is to strike at the root of gender inequality and patriarchy. In order to ensure equal rights to women, efforts must be made to spread awareness about the legal safeguards available to them within the existing laws- personal as well as civil.

 This awareness and capacitating them to explore these options along with reforms will go a long way in helping women. The key to gender justice is not common law. The attempt at uniformity has adversely affected the rights of large number of women. Justice and equality will be ensured by having uniform standards/principles of justice across personal laws.

We need to also understand that the primary need of today’s society is gender justice; uniformity cannot be the starting point.

 The process has to begin bottom up, by giving security to minorities and to encourage reform from within. One hopes the archaic practices like triple talaq are delegitimized as an important step towards gender just laws.

What the city Muslims say,

  1. It will be in interest of women,

Mehrunnisa Parvez, author

See, dharm ko lekar baat karein to vivad to hota hai…but nobody talks about the rights of women. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes made earlier. But I think, today’s world is quite different from the earlier world. Nowadays, women are not dumb, deaf and illiterate. They are educated and on good positions. But the law of triple talaq was made by men for their own benefit. The process of triple talaq is not even mentioned in Quran and it is interpreted wrongly. If there are any changes in the law then ye auraton ke haq mein hoga. It is very essential to change.

2. Triple talaq is un-Islamic,

Sarfaraz Hasan, state convener, Muslim Rashtriya Manch and theatre, film and television personality

Din-e-Islam is a very holy and just religion but I am very sorry to say that it is being harmed by the dirty mechanics and mentality of some persons. I’m totally against outside interference in any religion and religious rights; but at the same time, if we talk about the triple talaq, then honestly speaking, it is not mentioned in our Quran whereas as per Hadees, allah talaq ko sakht napasand karta hai.  Due to this fake law, the lives of hundreds of Muslim women have been spoiled.  Nowadays Muslims who believes in Allah are divided into many groups and they interpret the teachings of Islam as per their own wish and the common Muslim has to suffer. Mein teen talaq par Quran mein diye hukm ke alawa har vayastha ke khilaf hun.

3. No one has right to change it,

Budr Wasti, poet

Sharia Law is 1438-year-old and it has become a part of our religion. So, no one has right to change the concept. Also, the law is meant to harm anyone. I think it is the duty of Muslim scholars to make the people aware of the correct interpretation of the law.

4. Courts should not interfere,

Nahid Tanveer,

chemistry professor in MVM

I totally agree with the Muslim Law Board.  I think the Supreme Court shouldn’t interfere in this issue because divorce is not very common. Nobody gives divorce nor marries four women daily. Shariat Law was made by the Prophet and every Muslim is following the law. The court can’t change it.

We should follow teachings of Islam

Sajid Premi, artist

We should obey and follow the teachings of Islam. So Government shouldn’t interfere in it. The Muslim community is hurt by the interference of government.  To obey law the law of the country is okay and it is being obeyed by Muslims but forcing changes in religious affairs is wrong.

5. Triple talaq is stupid,

Tanveer Ahmed,

Theatre actor and director

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board is imposing its will on the Muslims. Agar ye teen talaq khatm ho gayi to halala ke jariye jismani nafsiyati bhukh ka rasta band ho jayega and then Muslim women would became free. I think all Muslim women should raise their voice to get rid of the stupid law.

6. Better-educated women can change situation,

Mumtaz Khan, fashion designer

Nowadays Muslim women are educated and they can understand what is wrong and right for them. But I personally think still there is need to work more on education.

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