The supreme court has held the practice of triple talaq as unconstitutional. This takes us back to the Shah Bano case and the question of reforming the Muslim personal law. Had it not been overturned by Rajiv Gandhi in 1986, how would it have impacted the Muslim society?
The year 1986 played a very important role as the issue of triple talaq became quite pertinent on the national forum. People had started debating it but there were hardly a few people in the Muslim community who were ready to speak against the Muslim personal law board. But in the last 10-15 years there has been a sea change in the attitude of Muslims as they started listening to views against triple talaq and the Muslim personal law board. Rajiv Gandhi was compelled to overturn the decision of the supreme court in the matter of Shah Bano though he was a man with modern approach. The Muslim personal law board started a very aggressive campaign against the decision of the supreme court. The board had openly called for assault on Muslim leaders who were opposed to triple talaq. Even judges were not spared by some Muslim leaders in parliament. So there was backlash in society and as a result peace and harmony between Hindu and Muslims got disturbed – much more than the partition in 1947. As a result, the Ayodhya issue came into the picture, to placate Hindus. So who was responsible for all this? None other than the Muslim personal law board as they started a very aggressive movement to pressurise the government to overturn the Shah Bano judgment.
Why is the board considered the representative of the community? Does it truly have wider acceptability in the community?
No, this is not true. They are given undue weightage. Had they been dealt with sternly in 1986, things would have been different. Three months back, when the proceedings started in the court, there were many who were threatening and saying interference in personal law or sharia law will not be tolerated. But today, after the judgment, everyone is welcoming it and there is hardly any dissenting voice. Actually, the problem lies with the political establishment which does not believe in a direct dialogue with the Muslim community. Political establishment always needs middlemen to deal with the community, ignoring their basic rights. Political parties have always created insecurity among them by posing as the saviour of the community. Who are they to provide security? It is the right of every citizen, irrespective of caste and religion, as the law of land will ensure security for them. Those who pretend to be the champions of secularism are the ones who speak against the constitution.
How come Muslim women suffer more even though the divorce rate is higher among the Hindus?
This is a great judgment and this has brought great relief to Muslim women. A young Muslim girl grows up with a sense of insecurity that her future husband can divorce her anytime and throw her out of house. Woman with four-five kids have been thrown out of house. They remain helpless as they find no place to go where they can get justice. It is true that the divorce rate is higher among the Hindus than Muslims, but the process of divorce is complicated in the Hindu society. Hindu women get claims and all, and only then they get divorced but Muslim women are divorced first, and then they go to court for claims under section 125 [of CrPC, relating to maintenance]. You go to court, and you will find only Muslim women seeking claims under section 125.
Will this judgment help abolish the practice of halala which has been alleged to be widely misused by a section of mullahs?
There is only one form of talaq in Islam and it takes minimum six months to conclude. First, the husband and wife are asked to patch up, [failing which] they are asked to live separately in the same house even as mediation goes on. One person from the bride’s side and one person from the groom’s side participate in mediation. If things still don’t work, they are asked to go for talaq, but they have to live together for another three months before separation.
Thus, it takes six months for talaq to get formalised. There is no question of practising halala if this process is adopted. Halala comes into picture when triple talaq is practised.
The board as well as a section of clerics have criticised the judgment as interference in personal law. Does it mean different interpretations of Quran are causing problems?
Triple talaq is nowhere mentioned in any interpretation. People from the board have openly said that Quran is not the only source of sharia and this has been widely reported in bold letters in various newspapers. In fact, this has been said by none other than famous cleric Arshad Madni. Had it been said by somebody else on a different occasion, there would have been hue and cry from the same people. I am truly shocked but let me tell you that the only source of sharia is the Holy Quran. Prophet Mohammad has himself said that anything attributed to him must be checked with the Quran. So, religion is a matter of belief and it should not be turned into a profession. Ninety percent of the fatwas are associated with triple talaq. This business is going to be over now. That’s why these interpretation and other issues are coming out.
Polygamy is another practice which is legal among Muslims though it is practised among other communities too. Will this judgment curb polygamy also?
Again, the kind of polygamy allowed in the Muslim society is not permitted in the Quran as per my understanding. It was allowed under special circumstances when people from Mecca had attacked Medina where the great prophet was residing. A third of the male population was killed. There were orphan kids. So it was allowed on the condition that justice can be done to all. Though next ayat disapproves it, as justice to all is not possible. So main ayat prohibits polygamy, but conditional permission was made into a law, that too unrestrained, and the main ayat was ignored. This [the supreme court verdict] is the beginning and I foresee many changes in future.
Can this judgment be a precursor to the uniform civil code?
We can discuss the uniform civil code if there is some roadmap in front of us. We can support or oppose it, since we are a secular democracy. Secular democracy means uniformity of law where no one can be forced to do something which his or her religion prohibits and no one can be prevented from doing something which his religion permits. Actually, a vibrant society is never rigid and it embraces several good things without losing its identity. So without hurting sentiments of any section of society, we can adopt some means, make such laws [like the uniform civil code]. But the problem lies somewhere else. [Former RSS chief MS] Golwalkarji had said that people who talk of the uniform civil code do not understand the diversity of this nation. He said some support it to annoy Muslims and others oppose it to appease. So one is flatterer and another one is flattener, and he opposed both of them.
There is a law against dowry and there is another law about women’s share in inheritance, and yet dowry is prevalent and the law of inheritance is hardly followed. Do you think mere law can abolish a practice like triple talaq?
Law creates awareness and it educates people. Fifty years back no woman could have dared to oppose dowry but now a number of women are coming out to oppose it and reject the marriage proposal if dowry is sought. Similarly, society has changed. You will now see women asking their husbands to get out of house if they are given talaq. Now it will become a fit case of harassment. Once punishment is meted out for triple talaq, it will act as deterrence. You cannot imagine how this will change the morale of women and at last it will impact the whole society.
(The interview appears in the September 1-15, 2017 issue of Governance Now)
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