A New Dawn for Indian Muslim Women

Dr. Jaipal Singh
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As an Indian, today I really feel very happy and elated for the Muslim women of the country who have finally won a long battle against social inequality, discrimination and exploitation continued for centuries in the name a religious code. A constitutional bench comprising of five supreme court judges in a majority verdict today banned the controversial Islamic practice that allows men to leave their wives immediately by stating ‘talaq’ (divorce) three times. The verdict also vindicates the stand of the present federal government, which has consistently held that the triple talaq violates fundamental rights of women.

It has been a long fight of Muslim women for social justice. It is not that this is the first case of its kind. In the past there have been several cases where so divorced women sought justice and relief from the Indian courts and verdicts were delivered in individual cases. The most famous case relates to Mohammad Ahmed Khan versus Shah Bano Begum (1985 SCR (3) 844) maintenance lawsuit, commonly referred to as the Shah Bano Case, wherein supreme court judgment delivered a verdict in favour of granting maintenance to the aggrieved divorced Muslim woman. Then the 62 years old Shah Bano, a mother of five children, divorced by her husband pronouncing triple talaq, had filed a criminal suit in the Supreme Court and won the right to alimony from her husband. Later she was denied the alimony when the Congress government with an overwhelming majority in the Indian Parliament passed a law reversing the judgement to please the Muslim conservatives who cited Quran to contest that the judgement was against the Islamic law.

Clearly it was a political and retrograde decision then because the ruling Congress Party had traditionally treated Muslim community as their trusted vote bank. No wonder even in the instant case one of the Congress stalwarts Kapil Sibbal, an ex-minister and Supreme Court lawyer fought the case of conservative Muslim organization (AIMPLB) against the litigant Muslim women. Ironically, Muslim women who appealed to the apex court include even ones who were divorced on electronic media like Skype and Whatsapp. The five judge constitutional bench declared the practice of triple talaq as void, invalid and unconstitutional by a majority decision of 3:2, scrapping the practice inter alia citing that it does not follow the basic tenets of Quran. The minority opinion of two judges was that the practice of triple talaq should be put on hold for six months allowing the Parliament to frame a law on the subject, meaning thereby that they too appreciate the evils of the retrograde practice.

While arriving at the judgement, the Supreme Court also took cognizance of the fact that several Islamic countries (over 20 Muslim countries) including Islamic Pakistan do not allow triple talaq. The Supreme Court had for the first time reviewed whether triple talaq is fundamental to Islam and therefore legally binding. Consequently, the majority view of judges was that triple talaq indeed violated the tenets of the Quran. Interestingly, the panel of judges was comprised of five different faiths i.e. Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism but no woman. The present NDA government fully backed the petitioners in this landmark case citing it as unconstitutional, derogatory and discriminatory to women.

It’s not that the judgement itself will end the existing archaic and medieval mindset and practices in the Muslim conservative society some of which are utter discriminatory and unfavourable to women depriving them of their basic constitutional freedom and rights. But it certainly paves the way and new hope to save the dignity and honour of women as they can now seek redressal of grievances on account of wrong doings arising out of their matrimonial relationships. They have to continue their struggle and go a long way to achieve their basic rights and social freedom from other retrograde practices like Halala and Polygamy.

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