Muslim Women Want Oral 'Talaq' To Go, Is Anybody Listening?

by Pavan Chaurasia - Aug 28, 2015 06:24 PM +05:30 IST
Muslim Women Want Oral 'Talaq' To Go, Is Anybody Listening?

The reason I am being forced to write this article is a report in the Times of India about a survey done by an NGO on the condition of Muslim women in India. As it turns out, Muslim women have overwhelmingly rejected the system of oral talaq (divorce) and its latest avatar through technology and social media like Facebook, Skype etc.

Consider this, about ’73, % women surveyed were from families that earned less than Rs 50,000 annually and 55% were married before they reached 18. An overwhelming 82% had no property in their name and 78% were homemakers, indicating absence of income. Over 53% reported having faced domestic violence in their lives while a majority was poorly educated.’

“In 2014, of the 235 cases that came to women Sharia adalats that we run, 80% were of oral talaq”, the report quotes Zakia Soman, the author of the survey, as saying.

Though this news and data is hardly astonishing to anyone familiar with the sorry conditions, the conspicuous ‘secular’ silence over it is disturbing. The problem in India is that any effort to improve the condition of Muslim women has always been portrayed as an attack on the Muslim identity. The hypocrisy of the so-called progressive forces is such that while “kiss of love” campaigns are projected as panacea to patriarchy, very little is done to battle against this extreme form of orthodoxy.

It’s not that there have been no voices of dissent within the community, but those voices have either been brutally suppressed or gradually weakened. One is reminded of Arif Mohammad Khan, who resigned from Rajiv Gandhi’s council of ministers over the issue of Shah Bano case where the entire government succumbed to the Muslim orthodoxy, all in the name of secularism.

This goes on to prove that the population worst hit by the rhetoric of secularism is the marginalized group within the Muslim community. The patriarchal, male-dominant form of dispute redressal mechanism has done considerable damage to the women who find it difficult to make both ends meet. There is actually a need of someone like Ambedkar from the amongst the Muslims to stand up for women’s cause.

That man never felt ashamed of calling a spade, a spade. Not many know that Ambedkar, apart from being a Dalit icon, was a robust economist and a champion of the cause of women. As KB Usha writes in an essay:

“Ambedkar saw women as the victims of the oppressive, caste-based and rigid hierarchical social system. He believed that socio-cultural forces artificially construct gender relations, especially by Manusmriti. As Simone De Beauvoir observed, “Women are made, they are not born”

Ambedkar’s defense for women as the Law Minister of free India appeared in the form of the Hindu Code Bill in Parliament on 11th April 1947, which invited strong opposition from the Hindu orthodoxy in post-independent India. The Bill provided for several basic rights to women. It sought to abolish different marriage systems prevalent among Hindus and to establish monogamy as the only legal system. It aimed at conferment of right to property and adoption of women. It provided for restitution of conjugal rights and judicial separation. It attempted to unify the Hindu code in tune with progressive and modern thought.”

Due to electoral compulsions and vote bank politics, no party can argue for such a change for Muslim women today.

But, with the era of liberalization, and the enhancement of level of education—accompanied by the penetration of social media—young Muslims have started demanding for reforms. And that is a healthy sign for democracy. Social transformation is a two-way process which includes both the government and the civil society. The government has to legislate progressive laws and use its machinery to reach out to the public, while civil society has to take up those reforms and bring about change in attitude and mindset.

Rising above vote bank politics, and without being afraid of being labeled as “anti-Muslim”, the Modi government with its historic mandate must come out with some roadmap as to how to initiate this social transformation. Remember, a progressive society is a precursor for a flourishing economy. Societal dogmas need to end and an open minded, liberal outlook needs to be developed. The reforms may not give immediate result but would at least start to turn the wheel, so to speak. And as the Times report shows, a large section of the Muslim community itself wants it to start turning.

Lazy scholar, social justice enthusiast, and an atheist Hindu with liberal outlook.
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