With a change of government at the Centre, progressive Muslim organisations are hoping that regressive, anti-women laws will be replaced with those based on gender parity. Syed Bhai of the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal, which has worked for eradicating social evils like oral, one-sided talaq, nikah halala (wherein a woman divorced by her husband has to marry another man and consummate the marriage before she is divorced by him and can return to her first husband) and fundamentalism, said they were planning to meet prime minister Narendra Modi with like-minded organisations to petition him on legal reform. Syed Bhai spoke to dna’s Dhaval Kulkarni about his expectations from the meeting.
What are your expectations from the Centre regarding change in Muslim personal laws?
We hope that laws which are biased against women are changed and measures taken to curb Hindu- Muslim riots. If the government wants, it can stop riots. A community can think and be enlightened only if it is in peace. We are planning to meet prime minister Narendra Modi and are looking at roping in progressive organisations from states across India.
What is your wish list?
Oral talaq and polygamy must go. Laws must be amended to allow Muslims to adopt children. Women must be given their rights and the disproportionate share of rights given to men must be reduced. Polygamy must be legally stopped. (Otherwise) If men have the right to marry four times, will women be allowed to marry four men similarly? We are planning to meet the president, prime minister, law and judiciary minister and Muslim MPs though things will be finalised after discussions with like-minded organisations. This is out of a sense of social responsibility. We have also met Rajiv Gandhi, Zail Singh and previous law ministers in the past. Like a uniform criminal code, we need a uniform civil code. Till this does not happen, we must persist.
But Muslim organisations oppose the demand for a uniform civil code on grounds that it interferes with religious practices.
Amendments in the laws and religious practices are two different poles. Today, the prevalent law does not ensure justice for women. However, opponents of these reforms claim that there is no need to touch these laws as women already have enough protection. Criminal laws which were based on the principle of Shariat were changed by the British and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board is protecting the very few provisions of Shariat that remain today. For instance, earlier, Muslims could keep a slave and thieves could get their hands cut off. A Muslim had to be tried by a Muslim judge only and a Hindu by a Hindu judge. However, the British changed this and brought in common criminal laws like the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.
How will reservations to Muslims as announced by the state government help the community?
This is a political announcement. This will have no impact. Why doesn’t it ban one-sided talaq and polygamy and ensure justice for women? This will be a step towards the uniform civil code. But, this has not been done.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Shariat courts have no legal authority and their fatwas cannot be enforced. Your comments.
Fatwas are not law. They are the opinions of a religious authority. The Indian Constitution is supreme and more important than all. There are Islamic principles which say that Muslims must not give or take interest but there are Muslims in the banking system. Already, a 90-98% uniform civil code exists. Many Hindu laws have also changed over a period of time. For instance. Hindus who crossed the seas earlier were excommunicated and eating bread led to conversion to Christianity. These things are not followed today.