95.5 per cent poor women have not even heard of the Muslim Personal Law Board
Contrary to the belief that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board—an NGO—is considered the highest decision making body on personal law by Muslims in the country, a survey has revealed that 95.5 per cent of women from economically underprivileged backgrounds had not even heard of the organisation. The survey also found that an overwhelming number of these women want reforms in Muslim personal law as is prevalent in India. Specifically, they want a codified law based on the Quranic justice framework to cover matters such as age of marriage, divorce procedures, polygamy, and custody of children among others.
The survey of Muslim women’s views on reforms in Muslim personal law—Seeking Justice Within the Family—conducted by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan across 10 states reveals that an overwhelming 82% of the over 4,000 women who were surveyed had no property in their name and that 78% were home makers with no income of their own.
“It is quite revealing that 95.5% poor women had not even heard of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, yet the government and the people go by the decisions taken by these self-proclaimed leaders of the Muslim community,’’ says Zakia Soman, co-founder of the Mahila Andolan.
More than 40% of the women surveyed had received less than Rs 1,000 as mehr—the mandatory payment a groom must make to the bride at the time of marriage which then is considered her own property—while 44% of them did not even receive any mehr at all. Most respondents were not aware of the empowering provisions of mehr and that it was their right to decide the amount. As many as 84% of the women surveyed wanted the annual income of the husband to be the minimum mehr amount.
An overwhelming 91.7% have spoken out against polygamy, saying that a Muslim man should not be allowed to have another wife during the subsistence of the first marriage. Of the 525 divorced women in the survey, 66% were divorced orally (i.e. triple talaq) and 78% were divorced unilaterally. This indicates that 88% of the women want the legal divorce to be the ‘talaq-e-ahsan’ method spread across over a period of 90 days and involving negotiations and avoiding arbitrariness.
Half of the women surveyed receive maintenance from their husband during the marriage but 27 per cent reported receiving none. Almost half of the divorced women were either being supported by their parents of were supporting themselves by working as they did not receive maintenance from husband.
Also, 88% of the women feel that their family disputes can be resolved if the law is codified while 89% want the government to intervene in helping codify Muslim Personal Law. Over 86% want religious leaders to take responsibility for enabling Muslim women to get justice in the family and they want these leaders to support the bringing about of a gender-just law. Similarly, an equal percentage of women want the community-based legal dispute resolution mechanism to continue so long as the functionaries are made accountable to law and to principles of justice. They want the government to help ensure this accountability through a legal mechanism while 90% want the qazis to be brought under a legal accountability mechanism.
A detailed questionnaire was administered to 4,710 Muslim women above 18 years of age and 73% of these were from poor background with family income of below Rs 50,000 annually. The data was collected between July and December 2013.
More than 55% of the women surveyed were married before the age of 18 years while 10% said they were married when they were above 21 years. Just about half of them had 1 or 2 children but did not possess a copy of their nikahnama – a legal document of marriage.
On dispute resolution, 53% reported having faced domestic violence at some point in their lives. Whenit comes to complaining about domestic issues,mMost women said they first go to their family, followed by the police and then social organisations or NGOs. Barely 1% of the women reported having gone to a qazi or Darul Qaza (religious heads).
While 75% of the respondents wanted the age of marriage to be above 18 years, 88% said boys should marry above the age of 21.
The survey was conducted on women from Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal, Karnataka, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha.