In the history of humankind, many things that were discriminatory were passed off as legal, such as apartheid, slavery, and colonialism until they were finally abolished. Because the people who made them legal were powerful and did so to serve their narrow self-interest. The oppressed classes, when they have an overwhelming desire to get emancipated, fight back to get the discriminatory laws overturned. That is what exactly happened in case of ‘triple talaq’ also.
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The Supreme Court, at last, provided succor to the countless Muslim women who are reeling under the scourge of ‘triple talaq’. The unfair practice emboldens a Muslim man to violate the sanctity of marriage by deserting his wife in a unilateral and patently unjust manner. The triple talaq dehumanizes women, enslaves them to their husbands and deprives them of their dignity. Though this is a welcome verdict, the very fact that it took 70 years for the independent India to reform an utterly discriminatory law is deeply saddening. It also shows how arduous and painstakingly slow it is to bring about any reformation in Indian society.
Indian women, irrespective of the religion they are born into, are the oppressed class. The oppression is the direct result of their disempowerment, which is a consequence of their subjugation and financial dependence. The conservative elements in every religious community target their women folk in the name of community honor and leave no stone unturned in their effort to exercise unwarranted control over them thereby restricting their freedom.
Many of us wonder as to what made the practice of triple talaq continue in India even after it was banned in more than 20 Muslim majority countries including Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh? The main reason behind the continued injustice meted out to the Muslim women appears to be political. In India, the Muslim clergy, to tighten their grip over their community, make unceasing efforts to drive it towards more conservatism and even try to unduly influence the Muslim community’s voting behavior. The fatwas issued by Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, to vote for certain political parties is too well-known. Therefore, in India, the political parties, which treat the Muslim community as a mere vote bank, compete to grab the vote bank by appeasing the conservative Muslim clergy.
The Shah Bano case stands as a testimony to the fact that the political parties in India stoop to any low in order to appease the Muslim orthodoxy with an eye on their vote bank. In a blatantly unjust move, the then Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi made a law in the parliament to deprive a divorced Muslim woman called Shah Bano of her right to maintenance, overturning a verdict given by the Supreme Court that granted her alimony. And, it is this unholy nexus between the political leaders and the clergymen, which made the lives of countless Muslim women miserable by creating hurdles on the path to reformation.
The Muslim women who were victimized by these discriminatory laws, have fought back and knocked at the doors of the highest judicial body. The male dominated and downright regressive All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) bitterly opposed any alteration in triple talaq on the pretext that it will amount to the intervention in the Muslim personal laws. In its feeble attempt to dissuade the Supreme Court from delivering its verdict, it even proposed that it would take some measures that include subjecting the errant Muslim men to social boycott. The board, however, appear to be ignorant of the fact that subjecting people to social boycott is also illegal and discriminatory. The victims of triple talaq fought a protracted legal battle and faced many odds in their effort to get justice. Now that the verdict has finally come, they are rightly celebrating it.
The Muslim clergy appears to have a very negative view of gender justice and many of them publicly expressed their aversion to it. Some time ago a prominent Muslim leader called Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musliyar stated, “Gender equality is something which is never going to be a reality. It is against Islam, humanity and was intellectually wrong,” and went on to say that “women are fit only to deliver children”. The AIMPLB, headed by the self-proclaimed leaders of Muslims, is no different. Therefore, these forces are not fit to represent the interests of Muslim women. It appears that the Muslim women have realized the futility of expecting others to speak for them, and have at last taken matters into their own hands. A progressive Muslim women’s organization called Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) was instrumental in bringing about awareness among Muslim women and is at the vanguard of the fight against discrimination.
The clergy and other orthodox elements in the Muslim society must realize the fact the gender justice is non-negotiable in this 21st-century society and they can no longer thwart the overwhelming urge among their women folk to lead a life of dignity in a just society. The self-proclaimed Muslim leaders, instead of opposing every move towards reformation and getting branded as patently regressive, can transform themselves into the instruments of change. They can try to bring about awareness among the Muslim community about various social evils and sensitize them about the need for reformation. But that appears to be too much to expect from them.