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BMMA Reiterates Demand for 'Balanced' Muslim Family Law, Hits Out at AIMPLB

A letter from BMMA says political parties, the government and the opposition should stop politicising the issue and ensure a comprehensive law that addresses many more issues than just triple talaq.

New Delhi: In August 2017, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, in a historic judgment, struck down the practice of triple talaq by a 3:2 majority, declaring it void and illegal.

Then, in December, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad introduced the Triple Talaq Bill in the Lok Sabha with a view of getting the government to frame a suitable law within six months – which he said the Supreme Court had held in its ruling.

Critics had called this a selective reading of the verdict as three of the judges had rejected the rationale for asking the government to frame such a law, in particular since the apex court was invalidating the practice altogether.But on December 29, 2017, the government passed the hugely contentious bill which criminalises instant triple talaq and makes it punishable by up to three years imprisonment for the husband.

Now, in an open letter, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), which has been pressing the need for reforms in Muslim family law for over a decade, has pointed to how there are many other issues that need urgent attention and are pushing that a draft Muslim Family law based on Quranic tenets, which the organisation has created over the years, be considered as it is in “consonance with the constitution”.

The law, which would be concerned with age of marriage, mehr, talaq, polygamy, the maintenance and custody of children, Zakia Soman, one of the founding members of the BMMA, writes, should be a balanced law.

The letter also condemns misinformation spread by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), which has made its stand clear. On April 1, the women’s wing of the organisation staged a ‘silent protest’ in south Mumbai’s Azad Maidan against the way the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was passed in the Lok Sabha in haste without consulting all the concerned bodies and religious leaders.

“Our demand is very clear. Take back the Triple Talaq Bill. It is anti-women, anti-gender justice, anti-children, will destroy families, push Muslim husbands into jail and damage the Muslim society,” said Asma Zehra, the president of AIMPLB’s women’s wing. She called the Bill “legally defective” saying that it focuses on jailing Muslim men without helping women in any manner”.

But according to Soman, such statements disregard the long road for justice that Muslim women have tread on. “They are responsible for the biggest disservice to not just Muslim women but also to Islam,” she writes. “Their resistance to change has only added to the anti-Muslim rhetoric.”

Read the whole text of the letter here:

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The Supreme Court setting aside triple talaq in its judgment of August, 2018 was a historical step forward in muslim women’s struggle for gender justice in marriage and family matters. However, issues such as nikah halala, polygamy, age of marriage, custody of children, share in property etc remain unaddressed.

Women’s rights in all of these matters are clearly protected by Quranic injunctions as well as various articles of the constitution. Unfortunately, the patriarchal dominance by orthodox forces have led to women being denied justice. Whereas Muslim women continue to approach the courts for legal justice, the situation can be resolved through a comprehensive codified muslim family law. This law based on the Quran and in consonance with the constitutional principles of justice and equality is the only solution in the long term.

Orthodox and patriarchal males have dominated the debate on rights of muslim women and have stone-walled any attempt towards reform in muslim personal law. Recent “women’s marches” organised by these groups also indicate how they have brazenly instrumentalised women and used them against their own legal protection. They have never spread understanding about women’s equality based on the Quran, on the contrary they have indulged in rampant misinterpretations supporting triple talaq, halala and polygamy. They are responsible for the biggest disservice to not just Muslim women but also to Islam. While the rest of the Muslim world has reformed laws and ensured legal rights of women Indian Muslim clerics have kept Quranic rights away from women. Their resistance to change has only added to the anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In the process, Muslim women have been denied their Quranic rights as well as their rights as equal Indian citizens. Almost all Muslim countries world over such as Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and even Bangladesh and Pakistan in our neighbourhood have codified personal laws governing marriage and family matters. But Indian Muslim women have been denied protection of law. In a national research conducted by us in 2015 Muslim women spoke about need for reform in personal law. We found that 92.1% women wanted a total ban on oral/unilateral divorce and 91.7% were opposed to polygamy. 83.3% woman said that codification of Muslim family law will help Muslim women get justice. In our ground level work across different states we have come to realise that just as Hindus, Christians and Parsis have their own personal laws, Muslims too must have their own codified Muslim personal law which ensures equality and dignity to Muslim women.

It is obligatory for the elected representatives and the government to enable women to get justice. The parliament must live up to its duty of passing a Muslim family law just as they passed the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and Hindu Succession Act, 1956. Justice for Indian muslim women can be enabled either through amendments to the Shariat Application Act, 1937 as well as the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939 or a completely new enactment of Muslim personal law. BMMA has over the last several years through multiple consultations involving thousands of Muslim women, lawyers, scholars, community leaders prepared a draft Muslim Family Law based on Quranic tenets concerning age of marriage, mehr, talaq, polygamy, maintenance, custody of children etc. These are in consonance with the constitution of India.

This government must now listen to the voices of progressive Muslim women. It has so far not heeded the amendments that BMMA has been demanding to the Bill passed by the Loksabha. A balanced law which ensures protection of women and at the same time deters the men is required and BMMA has done the needful by presenting this amended version to the government. Why is this government stonewalling the voices of women who have been working since the last decade to ensure Muslim women’s Quranic and constitutional rights? It is also time that the government and opposition stop politicising the issue and ensure a balanced and comprehensive law.

We demand that the government keep in mind the following factors in the proposed law:

1. Divorce: Talaak-e-Ahsan to be method of divorce requiring mandatory arbitration over a 90 day period involving both parties; any man indulging in unilateral divorce should be penalised through a fine and/or punishment as per the provisions of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and anti-cruelty provisions of IPC.

2. Polygamy to be made illegal; any man taking another wife should be penalised as per the 494, 495 of IPC.

3. Halala to be made an offence severely punishable by provisions of IPC.

4. Age of Marriage of girl to be 18 and boy to be 21 years.

5. Muta marriage to be made an offence severely punishable by provisions of IPC.

6. Consent of both parties must be obtained without force or fraud.

7. Minimum mehr to be equivalent of one full annual income of the groom to be paid at the time of nikaah.

8. Custody of children should be for both mother and father, who should be natural guardians of the child

9. Equal share in property for women.

Zakia Soman,

Co-Founder, BMMA