The question is not whether the Supreme Court has the constitutional authority to pass a judgment relating to the personal laws of a religious community. The apex court recently ruled in favor of a couple who wanted to continue living together after the husband said 'talaq' three times under the influence of alcohol. Justice Ruma Pal, Justice C K Thakker and Justice Markandey Katju noted, "No one can force them to live separately. This is a secular country. All communities, Hindus or Muslims, should behave in a civilized manner." The couple had since been ostracized by their community and forced to live separately. They have also been under threat from numerous mullahs who demanded that they accept that they are divorced.
Although the court judgment has evoked various reactions; ranging from jubilation at one end of the spectrum from those who believe in a common personal law in India for all communities and outrage on the other hand from a select few who believe that the court is interfering in religious matters.
"Supreme Court has no power to intervene in religious matter," was the reaction of Jamiat-ul-Ulama Maulana S S Sajideen Quasmi. He said that he would not allow the couple to inhabit together under any circumstances.
However as a woman I believe this case does not lie in just the limited domains of religion. It encompasses broader rights to live in a society. This is a case of blatant abuse of a woman's basic entitlement to respect and dignity. Logically a marital relationship is not dissolved unless under the most demanding circumstances. A divorce is the last resort when the relationship has reached beyond the stage of repair. A separation comes into action only when there is no other solution in sight and the two person team absolutely cannot function together anymore.
Given that it a relationship that involves two individuals, it is therefore sensibly unfair that the decision to end this relationship should rest with one of the partners - since the relationship is between two people, the choice to terminate it should also rest in mutual consensus. However the Indian society is patriarchal and men have always grabbed the best privileges for themselves, and women have to continually fight for their rights. It is regrettable that even in the 21st century crimes that occur within the social confines of the home and family are overlooked.
Hence it is unfortunate that in the Muslim community the husband can still divorce his wife by simply uttering three words. The upholders of the religion instead of counseling the husband instead choose to ensure that the couple separates so that the religion can be protected. How can these guardians of our society allow a woman be evicted from her home only because her husband doesn't want her anymore, even if in a fit of anger or as in this case under the influence of alcohol. It is a sad day for the Muslim community that the safeguarding religious interests were of greater importance for these mullahs than the marital life of a couple.
I am not suggesting that we should modify the Muslim personal law because the law in other Islamic countries is more liberal. No reform is in truly a reform unless it comes from within the community. This is the opportunity for the community to demonstrate that it cares for women by ensuring that they have similar rights as men. There is nothing personal about women's right. This is a public matter and demands immediate social intervention. To begin with we should demand a ban on the triple talaq.