Triple Talaq Debate is Bringing Out Multiple Shades of Patriarchy

In response to an allegation of "unscientific research", the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan staunchly declares that their research doesn't take away the suffering of the various Muslim women they worked with.

Representational image. Credit: Been Buddy Longway/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Representational image. Credit: Been Buddy Longway/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In our campaign for the abolition of triple talaq we have come face to face with a complex range of patriarchal responses. From the obvious personal law board members to people in academia, from the women members of patriarchal bodies to at least one feminist lawyer – all have painstakingly tried to argue that the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan’s (BMMA) position is wrong. These responses have sought to negate or trivialise the lived realities of Shayara, Afreen, Ishrat and other triple talaq survivors who made bold to go to court. It is sad that most of these status quoists have been silent all these years when gender justice principles were routinely being violated in our society. We for one, are happy that we have upset so many patriarchal boats.

To begin with, there is the personal law board which is sort of a fountainhead for the preservation of the anti-women order. Their worldview is amply elaborated in their affidavit calling for upholding triple talaq, nikah halala and polygamy. They don’t feel the need to camouflage anything and have clearly stated in their affidavit that men have more intelligence than women; that triple talaq is better than a man murdering his  wife and that polygamy is some kind of social service done by men. Unlike other apologists for triple talaq, the personal law board’s views are straightforward and unabashedly put forth.

Some apologists have been vehemently claiming that following the Shamim Ara judgment of 2002, triple talaq is no more an issue in our country. They have questioned the motives of Shayara and others. But in the process, they have ended up revealing their lack of belief in gender justice and equality. For one, the said judgment has not in any way prevented men from divorcing their wives through the triple talaq method. These experts place the entire burden of seeking justice and protection against this arbitrary and inhuman practice on the victim herself. They want men to continue to go scot-free after instantly divorcing their wives without any respect for Quranic or constitutional principles, leave alone punishment for such behaviour.

According to them, it is the divorced wife’s duty to be aware of the Shamim Ara judgment, hire a lawyer, fight a court case or just silently suffer gross violation of her rights! One feminist lawyer has written several times questioning our work on triple talaq abolition. Moreover, she has questioned Shayara and her lawyer; she has questioned scholars who support the abolition of triple talaq. She wrote an article finding good in the personal law board affidavit! She has been justifying polygamy amongst Muslims on the pretext that since polygamy is legally prohibited among the Hindus, this leaves a second Hindu wife vulnerable. Whereas all the four muslim wives are “wives” and therefore entitled to claim maintenance and so on. A wealthy man can feed, house and maintain a thousand women; so should he be entitled to marry all thousand of them? This is some novel school of feminism.

It is nobody’s claim that Indian women, be they Hindu, Muslim or Christian, have attained gender justice and equality. But there is protection for Hindu women in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and for Christian women under the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act. It is the Muslim women who have suffered legal discrimination in our country owing to the systematic resistance by the patriarch-apologist combine to codification of Muslim personal law.

The Shariat Application Act, 1937  is highly insufficient and needs to be urgently reformed. It is silent on age of marriage, mehr, triple talaq, polygamy, guardianship of children, womens’ share in property etc despite there being clear-cut Quranic injunctions on each of these. The apologists are furthering the case of the personal law board by bringing in the issues of injustice faced by Hindu women. They ignore the fact that it is Muslim women who are protesting and seeking reform – and not Hindu women. The apologists should work to create a movement of Hindu women if they really believe that Hindu women are gravely harmed because of Hindu personal law.

In addition to patriarchal arguments of all kinds, we have also been subjected to personal attacks by critics known and unknown. We are pasting below a WhatsApp message that has been doing the rounds in the Muslim community over the past few months. It carries the photo of one of us [Zakia Soman]:

Name – Zakia Soman married to Soman Nambiar – Married as per Hindu Rite, Son – Arastu Zakia , self declared atheist. Zakia has formed  Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan along with Noorjehan Safia Niaz of Dongri, Mumbai. They have written to PM to abolish Muslim personal law and want common civil law to be applied. Last week they created a new Fitna at Haji Ali Dargha protesting that women should be allowed inside Dargha just to cool down Sabarimala temple issue where women are not allowed to enter. Now they have got first women Qazi in Rajasthan to perform Nikkah. Please create awareness this lady has nothing to do with Islam she is being used by RSS to create fitna. Please do your own research and circulate to everybody so that we avoid fitna.

The latest to join the bandwagon of apologists for patriarchy is Faizan Mustafa, vice-chancellor of NALSAR University of Law. In a recent piece for The Wire, he alleged that there are gaps in the BMMA’s national study, not to speak of problems with our ideology, approach and mission.  Mustafa argues that the sampling in the BMMA study is not scientific and therefore it should be thrown out.

We published our national study Seeking Justice Within Family: Muslim Womens’ Views on Reform in Muslim Personal Law in 2015. Apart from the findings, the publication elaborates the rationale, the methodology and puts out the tools for all to see.  We are not the government; we are not the NSSO; we are not a university; we are a fledgling social movement of Muslim women. We are very proud that some of us suffered just like Shayara or Afreen or other women and fought to get back on our own feet. Not stopping there, we went on to form a national collective for gender justice in Islam and for equal citizenship for our sisters. We have painstakingly walked this path over the past ten years to challenge patriarchy and to uphold gender justice and equality in the 15 states where we work. Our sample is naturally drawn from the communities in the neighbourhoods where we have a presence. But, so what? Does it take away from the fact that these 4710 women shared their intimate stories with us? Does it take away from the fact that out of these, 525 women were divorcees? Does it take away from the fact that out of the 525 divorcee women, 346 had been divorced through triple talaq? Does it take away from the fact that 4320 women were against polygamy? So then, what really is Mustafa’s problem? The problem seems to be the women themselves! The problem seems to be the fact that these women have their own views against triple talaq and polygamy!

In the same piece, he goes on to pronounce the verdict that since the BMMA wants Quranic justice, they cannot be entitled to constitutional provisions. This warped logic makes no sense to us. In our view, it is not a case of either/or. The constitution entitles us equally to the right to religious freedom as well as to gender justice. For us, all the attempts at obfuscation by so-called experts cannot take away from this simple truth. Mustafa goes on to raise yet another proposition that we have long rejected in the course of our work. We believe the word of Allah is found in the Holy Quran and everything else – shariat, schools of thought, different laws come after that. For us, the only divine source is the Quran and we are fully capable of reading and interpreting the principles and values laid therein by ourselves. We reject the patriarchal misinterpretations and manipulations that abide in some Muslim societies. We don’t allow the clerics or anyone else to mediate between ourselves and our Allah.

We reiterate that triple talaq needs to be abolished urgently. There cannot be any argument for its continuation under the cloak of sampling methods or the suffering of Hindu women or the Shamim Ara judgment. All these arguments are abhorrent in their disregard for womens’ experiences and equal rights. All these arguments only reflect shades of the misogynist worldview openly propounded by the personal law board in its affidavit to the Supreme Court.

Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Niaz are co-founders of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan