A whole year after we cheered the Supreme Court judgement that invalidated triple talaq in India, 32-year-old Shagufta from Ratnagiri is still running around to fight the triple talaq that her husband pronounced. Abandoned and without entitlements, Shagufta finally chose to seek relief via the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
For lakhs of Muslim women in the country, life after the ban and the introduction of Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017 has meant confusion about their legal recourse. Yet, the ruling party has been flaunting the ban and Bill as ‘their’ victory. This is despite the fact that there is still no Standing Committee to review the Bill and no sight of the promised guidelines. Its recent rushed attempt to pass the Bill without any discussion or consensus in the Rajya Sabha on the last day of the monsoon session has only unmasked their real intentions.
The developments over the past year have exposed many other self-styled spokespersons of Muslim women, even as they pit them against each other.
First, the fundamentalists. They have used this year for a nationwide campaign to whitewash the flaws of the personal law – so they can preserve the Shariat, not women’s dignity. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) had even promised a social boycott of men who resort to triple talaq and a modern nikahnama, but none of it has materialised so far. Instead, they have increasingly leveraged Islamophobic rhetoric and attacks on Muslims by Hindutva groups to justify their fight for Shariat, not mob lynchings. They projected Muslim women as the face of their ‘Shariat Bachao’ (Preserve the Shariat) campaign. Having directed all their efforts to monger fear and build anxiety around saving Islam and Shariat, they alienated and distressed Muslim women who fought against Triple Talaq – Ishrat Jahan, Shayara Bano, Nida Khan – to the extent that they joined the ruling party. Never have they demanded the implementation of the Sachar committee recommendations as painstakingly as they have campaigned for the Shariat.
On the other hand, the government tried to garner the support of Muslim women to criminalise Muslim men. This has led to dangerous polarisation among Muslims and further impeded the issue. The government’s paradoxical positions on women’s rights have roused suspicion among women’s rights groups. In their last four years, public campaigns such as Beti Bachao have been used to project it as the messiah of marginalised girls and women, especially the oppressed Muslim.
However, a closer reading reveals that they are actually weakening the position of female survivors of violence. Why else would they decriminalise the much-needed Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the legal weapon that protects women from domestic violence, dowry and other often-hidden forms of abuse? Ostensibly to prevent its “misuse” because it criminalises harassment and violence against a woman by her marital family. However, data and opinions of experts suggest that cases of its misuse have been anecdotal and a majority of women facing domestic violence do not even use 498A. On the other hand, for the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2017, they contradict themselves by arguing for criminalisation of the husband’s role without addressing the wife’s entitlements. How does one explain this duplicity of criminalising Muslim men’s domestic violence and the decriminalisation (rather, near nullification) of 498A?
Besides, the government delegated the drafting of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) to the Law Commission but simultaneously ignores the recommendations being presented to the Commission. It also tried to get the Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha without consulting the Law Commission.
Public discussion of UCC submissions
In fact, the Law Commission has a big role cut out for itself in these circumstances but has sadly not lived up to the expectations. Its earlier survey with 16 questions on UCC and now the apparently 72,000 submissions it has received must be publicly discussed. Although they host consultations, these Delhi-centric conversations tend to exclude groups and individuals from other parts of the country who are unable to participate. In these times of majoritarian politics, the Commission needs to come clean and share its own stance.
Other public figures who have weighed in on the debate have rallied behind Shariat courts as possible alternate dispute resolution (ADR) fora that can help beat the tardiness of civil courts. The idea behind the establishment of ADRs was to solve familial and civil disputes. In reality, they have bred misogyny and are run by patriarchal clerics who do not believe in women’s rights, their autonomy and choices. They try to silence and dissuade women from approaching the courts. In fact, the AIMPLB and the Tanta Mukt Samiti (village-based dispute resolution committees) have also tried to suppress issues faced by Muslim women to supposedly protect the community and its faith.
All these spokespersons have had one common strategy – to gather those divorced through triple talaq and Muslim women for public protests and television debates. While that may be good optics, it leaves unaddressed the most fundamental of questions: have we secured these women’s futures with basic necessities of education, livelihood and social security? While this is apparently a fight around triple talaq and Muslim women’s rights, yet, basically, it is about fundamental human rights enshrined in the country’s constitution for every citizen, regardless of her faith and gender, among others.
Even a year after the ban, it is dismal times for Muslim women – Muslim men are being routinely lynched, majoritarian politics is being anti-minority and minority politics is reduced to being anti-women.
Amrita Nandy is a researcher and author, and Hasina Khan is founder member, Bebaak Collective, and a petitioner in the Supreme Court case on triple talaq.