By: M.J. Iqbal
Contrary to the media hype and chest-thumping by the government, the ongoing protest against an ill-thought and flawed bill criminalizing triple talaq, by Muslim women across India not only showcases their love for religion but also exposes the so-called plight of Muslim women due to instant talaq. The nation has often seen the Honorable PM shedding tears over the plight of his poor ‘Muslim sisters’ and vowing to bring justice to them. We are told that this is what Muslim women themselves have asked for. And, as a matter of fact we have seen some women bearing Muslim names such as Shayara Bano, Ishrat Jahan, Aafreen, Farah Faiz, Zakia Soman, Noor Jehan welcoming the bill. However, it is another matter that Jahan later joined BJP while Faiz, an intervener in the triple talaq case, is the president of RSS-affiliated Rashtrawadi Muslim Mahila Sangh. The nation has seen few Muslim women distributing sweets following the SC verdict and similarly after the bill was passed in Lok Sabha. We would have surely seen distribution of sweets for the third time if BJP had a majority in Rajya Sabha too. However, due to Opposition’s demand to send it to a Select Committee, Rajya Sabha remained undecided over the bill. The Government still seems unyielding on the matter turning a deaf ear to the series of protest taking place all over India.
The shallowness of the hypocritical discourse around gender equity while advocating the bill is self-evident. Demonizing triple talaq and then drafting a law that applies to all forms of irrevocable divorce including talaq-e-ba’in shows lack of understanding the matter by the authors of the draft if not a deliberate attempt to abolish the Islam way of divorce in its entirety. Criminalizing a decidedly civil matter is also uncalled-for. And when as per the SC verdict, triple talaq doesn’t result in dissolving the marriage, the question of “sustenance allowance” and “child custody” doesn’t arise at all yet the bill talks about them as if triple talaq or to be more precise any form of irrevocable talaq terminates the bond. What’s astonishing is that such an ill-thought and self-contradictory bill was much hailed by the media. Therefore, not only the Muslims but many feminists and lawyers from other communities expressed their concerns as to how the bill, if passed, is going to ruin families. A few Muslim faces on TV screens applauding the bill cannot be taken as representatives of all the Muslim women across the country. Women in multitude are protesting against the bill from all walks of life. Well qualified women including teachers, lawyers and doctors are among those who want themselves to be heard.
It should be noted that with the BJP’s continuous projection of Modi as liberator of Muslim women, the issue of ending instant divorce was part of the party’s political campaign especially in the Uttar Pradesh elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed so much concerned that he could not resist himself from showing his sympathy for the ‘sisters’ suffering due to triple talaq even on the occasion of 71st Independence Day, assuring that the nation is with them in their struggles. However, when finally the practice of triple talaq was “set aside” by the Apex Court in a landmark 3-2 verdict on August 22, 2017, the PM hailed it as “historic” and “a powerful measure for women empowerment”. Though against their religious conviction, the verdict was welcomed even by All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board “since it accords protection to Muslim personal law and says that personal laws cannot be tested by courts on the grounds of violation of fundamental rights.” It is also notable that the minority opinion in the SC order suggested the Centre to enact a law within six months of the verdict and the government, after initially ruling out any plan to frame a law in view of the majority opinions that invalidated the practice, soon set an inter-ministerial group headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh that included External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and his junior in the ministry P P Chaudhary without consulting Muslim organisatons before framing the draft because , to them, “the issue arises from the humanitarian concept of gender justice, gender equality and dignity of women and not arising from faith and religion.”
However, amidst protests from a few political parties, the Lok Sabha passed by voice vote the Bill on 28 December 2017. “When they have a brother like Narendra Modi, they do not need to be afraid of anyone,” said the BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi assuring Muslim women during discussions on the bill in the Lok Sabha. “Yes, indeed. With Modi as their brother, they have nothing to fear. The might of the BJP government is with the Muslim woman when she is seeking protection against her husband. But not otherwise. Not when she is being attacked by rioting mobs during communal violence, when her house is torched or when she is threatened with gangrape. Not when she is the widow of a man lynched by cow vigilante mobs. Not even if she is a Hindu who wishes to marry a Muslim. Modi will not come to her aid even when she is beaten by her husband or thrown out of her home. But if her husband pronounces instant triple talaq, he will be there for her.” That’s how Flavia Agnes, a lawyer with expertise in marital, divorce and property law, reacted to this pretence in her article on the issue.
On other hand, the Government miserably failed to convince the opposition to help pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority. A united opposition led by the Congress stuck to its demand that the bill be sent for review to a parliamentary committee. Arguing that if a man who abandons his family goes to jail, he will not be able to provide for them, they wanted the bill to include provisions for giving financial aid to Muslim women. They also expressed their concerns that if the law is passed, it could be misused as it gives anyone the right to complain to the police about the “triple talaq” to register a case and arrest a man. The government, however, was adamant it will not cede to the opposition and send the bill to a panel. It accused the Congress of double standards. The winter session, however, was adjourned and the bill was left for the next session. The ruling party and the opposition both want the bill to be passed and all that the later wants is referring it to a parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.
Amidst all these political gimmicks, only the community involved was deemed unworthy of consulting for their inputs on the bill. What’s more, even the ‘sisters’ whose plight was the biggest concern of our Honorable MP were not consulted before or after introducing the bill. A few women participating in every debate were projected as the collective voice of the community and their ‘plight’ the story of ever Muslim family. But in a democratic country like India even silence speaks. Though the major media houses didn’t consider it necessary to highlight the series of protest taking place all around yet the truth was larger than hypocritical journalism and rejection of the bill by the Muslim women has somehow found their way to English media too. How can you ignore when lakhs of women march on the road holding placards? From the metro cities to the smallest town, the country is witnessing Muslim women clad in hijab silently protesting against the bill. The report is not inclusive as we don’t have any official data as to how many protest rallies have been held so far. However, a few deserve a mention to know how actually the Muslim women feel about the ‘landmark’ bill.
Malegaon, Maharashtra: According to Times of India, a large throng of approximately 70,000 women, mostly clad in hijab, stepped out of their houses in Malegaon to join a silent march protesting against the Centre’s Triple Talaq Bill on Feb 16, 2018. Holding placards, they stated they did not want any interference in Sharia (Islamic law) by the government. This is the biggest gathering so far of Muslim women in the country joining voice against the imposition of a new law on triple talaq. However, according to the local newspapers about two lakhs women participated in the rally. The protest march was organised by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and supported by all sects of Muslims, apart from NGOs and social workers.
All the roads in Central Malegaon were cleared for the protest. “As per our estimate around 60,000 to 70,000 women participated in the silent rally. Not a single untoward incident was reported. We had deployed mostly women police personnel, and additional staff was called in from outside Malegaon to maintain law and order,” said Gajanan Rajmaney, the deputy superintendent of police of the town. Unofficial estimates put the figure at well over a lakh.
“We participated in the rally to oppose the triple talaq Bill. We don’t want any interference in our Sharia law,” said Aafiya Kaleem, a homemaker who travelled two kilometres to join the march.
Gazala Nasir Royal, a doctor who attended, said that India is a democratic country and everyone has the right to follow his/her religion. “The government should not interfere in anyone’s religion. We will not tolerate this. To register our protest, we carried out a silent and peaceful march,” she said.
Rizwana Hamdani, a schoolteacher, said she participated to register her protest against the hypocritical discourse around gender equity. “Why is there no talk of 22 lakh abandoned Hindu wives? Why shed crocodile tears for Muslim women alone? I am completely opposed to the criminalisation of instant triple talaq,” said Hamdani.
Dr Saiqua Jabeen, a gynecologist, said, “We love Allah and his Prophet and cannot tolerate any interference in our Sharia. Islam has given maximum freedom to women. We don’t want any change in Sharia and that is why we protested.” Dr Arshiya Malik Ambar, an eye specialist, stated that the triple talaq bill be rejected.
Ulema from different sects including Maulana Umrain Rehmani, general secretary of the AIMPLB, handed over a memorandum to the additional collector in Malegaon requesting that it be sent to senior officials.
Mumbai: Muslim women in Mumbai took out a silent march on, Feb 15, 2018 demanding withdrawal of the Triple Talaq Bill. Holding placards with words that conveyed their sentiment, the women contingent also submitted a memorandum to the police in which they sought intervention from the Governor of Maharashtra.
The memorandum says the women wing of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a consultative group, have demanded the mention of Muslim women in a paragraph be deleted from the address made to the parliament. They said, it ‘hurts the sentiments of the community’ and have asked for an expert committee to modify this bill.
“The bill was proposed without consulting experts in the community, our top religious scholars and intellectuals. Because of this reason we want the bill to be rejected as it goes against the Constitution of India, women’s rights and gender justice. We appeal that it be taken back,” said Munisa Bushra Abidi, member of women’s wing of AIMPLB.
Patna: Hundreds of Muslim women on Feb 18, 2018 participated in a silent procession against Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) bill, 2017 as well as President Ram Nath Kovind’s statement in favour of the bill.
The procession was jointly organized by the women’s wing of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) Bihar Chapter and Rashtriya Secular Seva Manch. They also handed over a memorandum to ADM (law & order) Md Moizuddin to submit it to governor Satya Pal Malik.
Supported by 28 other voluntary women organizations, the procession started from Patna Science College and concluded near Sabzi Bagh on Ashok Rajpath. Although the organization had called for a silent procession, the protesters shouted slogans against the government’s bill. They urged the government to delete the paragraph on Muslim women from the President’s address to the Parliament and demanded the withdrawal of the bill. “Muslim women’s honour was a victim of political upmanship. Now the country has the opportunity to free them from this situation … My government tabled a bill on triple talaq in Parliament and I hope it will become a law soon. After the law comes into force, the Muslim daughter and sister can live a life free of fear and dignity,” President Kovind had said in his address to the joint sitting of both houses of Parliament.
“The content of the bill is a violation of Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution. The bill is antisocial as it converts a civil matter to a criminal offence. The government is directly interfering with the Muslim personal law,” the convener of AIMPLB women’s wing, Mahjabeen Naaz, said and added that the President’s statement had deeply hurt the religious sentiment of Muslims in the country and was a direct attack on the largest minority section in the country. “The bill is anti-women and anti-children. Considering that the government wants to make instant talaq illegal, how will the husband pay a living allowance to the wife and children when he is in jail for three years?” Naaz questioned.
Kalaburagi, Karnataka: Opposing the triple talaq Bill, Muslim women protested against the Union government in Kalaburagi on Saturday, Jan 3 2018. They took out a march from Muslim Chowk and demonstrated at the Deputy Commissioners’ office.
They said that the recently introduced Muslim Women (Protection of rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was defective and politically motivated and it would not protect the interests of Muslim women.
They also warned that any interference in All India Muslim Personal Law Board would not be tolerated. “The government cannot force Muslims to follow other communities in issues related to personal laws as it would amount to an infringement of their fundamental rights,” they added.
Similar protest marches and rallies were and are still being held in almost every town and city throughout India. These not only show how content the Muslim feel with their personal laws protected by the Constitution but also expose how a trivial issue was projected by the Government and highlighted by the media for political mileage. The nation should hear those who want to be heard and then decide if this is what the Muslim women have themselves asked for?!