The Indian government that intends to repeal Muslim personal laws which allow an Indian Muslim to be governed separately from the Indian civil code; are questioning these personal laws that are inconsistent with fundamental rights of gender justice and dignity of women, writes Vishnu Karmakar.

Mahoba (UP), Oct 24: In his first comments on the controversial issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said the government and society should ensure justice to Muslim women and not let their lives be destroyed by triple talaq.

Modi at the same time also condemned the prevalence of female foeticide in Hindu society.

Addressing a public rally here, Modi said it was not fair for a man to say “talaq” thrice over the phone to ruin a Muslim woman’s life.

“This issue should not be politicised.

“Female foeticide is a sin. So what if the sinner is a Hindu. He will have to go to jail for such an act. My government has taken a number of steps to stop female foeticide. Religion and sect should not be allowed to come in the way when such matters arise.

“Daughters, mothers, sisters should be protected. Mothers and sisters should be respected. We have raised the issue firmly,” he said.

“Elections and politics have their own place. But to give justice to Muslim women and that too according to the Constitution is the responsibility of the government and the society.”

The Prime Minister also urged people not to make triple talaq a Hindu-Muslim issue and said it was for this reason that his government had told the Supreme Court that inequality cannot be allowed in the name of religion.

“We have told the Supreme Court that there should not be injustice to Muslim women. There should not be discrimination on the basis of religion,” Modi said.

Modi came down heavily on political parties who he said were politicising the issue.

“I am surprised that some political parties want to keep Muslim women bereft of their natural rights in the hunger for vote bank politics and that too in the 21st century.

“What kind of justice is this?” Modi asked.

In his address, ahead of assembly elections in UP (Uttar Pradesh) scheduled early next year, Modi also asked the gathering whether Muslim sisters deserved equal rights or not.

“Should they get justice or not. Should they be defended or not?” he asked.

“Debates are going on in the media… I urge people not to make it a government-opposition issue. Don’t make it an issue of the BJP and other parties. Don’t make it a Hindu-Muslim issue.

“There must be a debate among those experts from the Muslim community who are either in favour of it or in opposition to triple talaq,” he added.

All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has said it will continue to defend triple talaq and some Muslim clerics have voiced unhappiness at the government’s move over the issue.

However, a group of Muslim women has welcomed Indian government’s stand that Triple Talaq violated the issue of women’s equality and must go.

“We … whole-heartedly welcome the stand taken by the government in the Supreme Court,” the women activists said in a joint statement.

“We welcome the clear statement in the (government) affidavit that practices such as Triple Talaq, Nikah Halala and polygamy are violative of women’s equality and dignity and therefore need to be abolished.”

The statement said ‘Triple Talaq took place in gross violation of Quranic injunctions and values of justice and equality enshrined in the Indian constitution’.

“We further welcome the statement that gender equality is non-negotiable… There can be no progress without gender equality and justice.

“We also welcome the stand that the fact that these practices are legally regulated in several Muslim countries indicates these are not essential practices in the Islamic religion,” the statement said.

“The Constitution allows for personal laws with the objective of upholding diversity and pluralism in our country. But it nowhere sanctions violation of the principles of gender justice.”

Until now, polygamy can be legally practised by Muslim men in India.

The women said that Muslim women were entitled to legal justice just as Hindu women had moved towards justice through the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.

“The Shariat Application Act, 1937 is incomplete and archaic and we urgently seek reform in order that Muslim women citizens are able to live a life of justice and dignity.”

Earlier in June this year, 50,000 Muslims including men had signed a petition to ban ‘un-Quranic Triple-talaq.

Filed by Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), the BMMA drew attention to their study which revealed that 92% of Muslim women were against the practice, given that husbands have been using weird and unacceptable ways to end marriages.

Many cases have been reported so far, where husbands have used text messages, emails and phone calls to end marriages, leaving women in the lurk.

The women also dwelt on the ‘atrocious practice of nikah halala, which requires a woman to marry another man and consummate the marriage before she became entitled to marry her former husband.

Many members of BMMA have also lashed at qazis, as they support husbands and often offer themselves for the temporary need of ‘nikah halala’.

The Indian Supreme Court has recently accepted a petition by a Muslim woman Shayara Bano, who was deserted by her husband and wants demolition of the practice.

Indian Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad called for a reality check and asked ‘if Islamic countries could amend their divorce system, then why cannot India follow suit’.

Noting that the issue was before the Indian Supreme Court and the central government had already clarified its stand in its reply to the court notice, he said that the Indian ‘government stands by gender justice, gender equality and gender dignity in connection with triple talaq issue as per the Constitution’.

“After the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the central government in the wake of numerous complaints… against the triple talaq issue, the government had replied to the notice,” said Prasad.

“In our reply to the apex court, we said that in more than a dozen Islamic countries, the triple talaq system has been regulated. So, if in Islamic countries, this system can be regulated, then why not in India which is a secular nation,” he said.

Many Islamic countries including Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan have instituted changes in marriage laws to achieve gender equality.

Prasad, a noted lawyer himself, said voices for justice by Muslim women itself suggest that triple talaq can’t be justified under Constitutional provisions as gender justice, non-discrimination and dignity of women are fundamental Constitutional values.

The government had earlier told the Supreme Court that ‘triple talaq’, ‘nikaah halaal’ and polygamy as practised by the Muslims in India were not “integral to the practices of Islam or essential religious practices.”

“The fact that Muslim countries where Islam is the state religion have undergone extensive reforms goes to establish that the practise in question cannot be regarded as integral to the practices of Islam or essential religious practices,” argued the government in an affidavit.

“It is noteworthy that even theocratic states have undergone reforms in this area of the law and therefore in a secular republic like India, there is no reason to deny women the right available under the constitution”, the affidavit further read.

It said that the constitutional right of women to human dignity, should be given to all irrespective of religion, and pointed out that India was a signatory to international covenants which guarantees right to equality to women.

Personal laws must be examined in light of gender justice and dignity of women and those inconsistent with fundamental rights are void.

“The fundamental question for determination is whether in a secular democracy, religion can be reason to deny equal status and dignity, available to women under the constitution,” the government said in its response affidavit.

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