How do you view the anti-Bill protests?
The AIMPLB-organised ‘women’s marches’ are nothing but blatant instrumentalisation of women. Women are being used to speak against their own rights and their own position, like the Padmavat controversy, where women were brought out to say they will commit jauhar. Using women to further the ends of patriarchy is an old game of patriarchs everywhere. The AIMPLB did nothing to educate and empower the women about their Quranic and constitutional rights. They have always justified triple talaq despite it being un-Quranic. Now, they’ve pressurised these women to come out by spreading misinformation, telling them that shariatand our religion are under attack. They’re endangering the community by propagating anti-women mindsets and practices.
How will the Bill change things for Muslim women?
Firstly, we must acknowledge that Indian Muslims should have a codified family law, just like the Hindus, Christians and Parsis. It is shameful that 70 years after Independence, we’ve failed to provide legal protection to Muslim women in family matters. It is a collective failure. The government, elected representatives and Muslim leaders have a lot to answer for. The personal law board has never acknowledged the need for a law. In fact, they’ve always distorted facts by saying that shariat is divine and cannot be interfered with.
What changes have you suggested to the Bill?
We’ve suggested three main amendments: we want a comprehensive divorce procedure based on the talaq-e-ehsan method. This involves mediating to bring about a reconciliation within a minimum 90-day period. Also, the Bill needs to be clearer on the woman’s right to reside in her marital home, maintenance for herself and her children. Thirdly, only the wife should have the right to file an FIR against triple talaq, based on which punishment of imprisonment up to one year in jail can be imposed if the offence is established. In the long-term, the solution lies in codified law that lays down age of marriage as 18 and 21 years for women and men, a fair divorce procedure, illegalising halala and polygamy, equal share for women in property, accepting mother and father as equal guardians and custodians of the child and more such provisions is the only solution.
Will the three-year jail term be a deterrent to triple talaq?
Deterrence is necessary. Women coming to us say, “He has ruined my life and is getting away with a few years [in jail].” In triple talaq cases, it is seen that the power lies with the husband. In most cases the wife is utterly helpless, without any recourse or a support system. Women survivors say fear of punishment will force men to behave. Imprisonment is nothing new in gender justice laws: laws on bigamy, dowry and domestic violence lay down punishment for offenders.
Was the Bill passed in a hurry by the Lok Sabha?
The law has been delayed by 70 years but yes, the government should have consulted stakeholders while framing the Bill. Muslim women who have been fighting triple talaq, halala and polygamy have many insights, perspectives and suggestions. Our study found that more than 85% women want a codified Muslim family law.
Is the BJP-led government capitalising on the issue?
It is not surprising that the BJP government is keen to take credit through the Bill, given the mysterious silence of the Congress and other secular parties on gender justice for Muslim women. The political class has failed in their constitutional obligation to enable gender justice. I fail to understand as to why have they not made an open announcement of support to Muslim women! We got lot of support from ordinary people – Muslims, Hindus, Christians, non-believers, everyone supported us. Not just the personal law board, politicians too have failed to realise that today, ordinary Muslims want change. They want Muslim women to get their rights. Ordinary people realise that the AIMPLB’s rigid posture fuels demonisation of the community. It is this dithering on the part of secular parties that the BJP wants to capitalise on.