India: Muslim Women to Mullahs- reform personal law or else

gender-equality

By Hasan Suroor

Aug 19, 2015

A progressive Mumbai-based Muslim women’s group has published a survey whose findings are so stark that they should, finally, put an end to any further debate on the urgent need to reform the Muslim Personal Law in order to protect women from its continued abuse. And, it comes with a warning: if the community doesn’t act, the government should step in and force the necessary changes.

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), the liberal campaign group behind the survey, intends to ratchet up the pressure both on the Muslim politico-religious establishment and the government, and is sending copies of its study (“Seeking Justice Within Family – A national story on Muslim Women’s Views on Reforms in Muslim Personal Law”), to the Prime Minister’s Office, the National Commission for Women, the National Human Rights Commission, and eminent jurists among others for them to study and act on it.

For 65 years, mullahs and their political proxies have been pussy-footing around the issue. Neither themselves willing to do the right thing, nor allowing any outside intervention by raising the bogey of uniform civil code and portraying calls for reforms as a threat to Muslims’ religious and cultural identity. They should see the survey as a warning that time is running out.

BMMA chose only the lower strata of Muslim women for its research. And for good reason. It’s these women — mostly uneducated, economically dependent on their husbands or parents, and conditioned to be submissive — who are the worst victims of arbitrary application of personal family laws relating to divorce, alimony and inheritance.

The 1985 Shah Bano case involving an elderly, uneducated, lower middle class divorcee left to fend for itself was just the tip of the iceberg. And, for all the promises made in the wake of that controversy little has changed in the past three decades.

“Not much has changed after the Shah Bano case. Most religious leaders are very resistant to any change,” said Zakia Soman, a BMMA activist and a co-author of the report stressing the need to codify the law.

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