In this photograph taken on April 28, 2016, Sadia Akhtara, Madhya Pradesh convenor of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a charity that works on the issue of ‘triple talaq,’ poses during an interview with AFP in Bhopal. (Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images)

Recently India’s Ministry of Law and Justice submitted in the Supreme Court that the time has come for the much needed adjudication for social reforms and do away with practices that are not essential or integral part of religion and result in financial and social vulnerability of Muslim women, writes Priyanka Bhardwaj. – @Siliconeer #Siliconeer #India #MuslimWomenRights #IndianLaw #TripleTalaq

This is primarily to do with the removal of decadent and unjust traditions of yore, namely, “triple talaq,” polygamy and “nikah halala” amongst the Muslim community that has remained backward in all indices of development.

Another change sought by the center is the framing and eventual promulgation of Uniform Civil Code (UCC) which means application of equal laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc. for all communities.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government holds the view that a civil code in line with the notions of liberty, gender justice and equality as enshrined in the Constitution would elevate the status of Muslim women, bring them at par with those of other communities, and instill a sense of confidence and dignity in them.

Notably one of the best works, the Indian Constitution has granted full equality to all citizens, regardless of any discrimination, but in practice women of many communities do not enjoy their rights as these remain yoked to the patriarchal monopolies prevailing in their families and communities, all in the name of religion.

Especially amongst Sunni households, men are infamous for pronouncing the phrase “I divorce you” (“talaq” in Arabic) thrice to their wives (a tradition called talaq – e biddat) to dissolve their marriages that have had the sanctions of the Muslim personal law.

Matters have come to such a head that the black word is conveyed telephonically or through emails or text messaging, without even a rational discussion with the spouse or concerned family elders.

While the husbands enjoy unbridled authority to annul marriages via “triple talaq” and can have four wives at a time, the women do not hold any such authority.

And as if this was not enough, there is also the practice of “nikah halala” whereby the divorced woman must marry another man and then get a divorce from him in order to remarry her first husband.

On one hand while the Islamic scholars express displeasure with such conservative traditions, they also point to their validity according to the Shariat and preconditions of waiting period and other criteria mentioned thereof.

In the light of the above dichotomy in the voices emanating in the community heads it becomes clear that such redundant and debilitating traditions that have been Arabian imports and never gained endorsement by the Prophet and the Qoran need to be immediately stopped.

As a matter of fact 29 Islamic countries have repealed such practices and it is a travesty that India that chose civic nationalism to celebrate its diversity and plurality of cultures, despite being a country of no immigrants, under the able leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Baba Bhim Rao Ambedkar should still allow such religious decrees to control and subjugate women.

The Constitution itself clearly states that in any secular democracy the fundamental right to equality cannot be taken away in the name of any religion, emphasized in Part III of Article 25 that provides for the right to freedom of religion (Article 19 & 20), and the right to religion has been made subject to provisions of “right to equal protection of laws and gender justice” (Articles 12 – 19).

Not many may be aware that at the time of inception of the Constitution, Ambedkar whose academic life was nurtured in environment of a free and liberal Western World and went on to head the Constituent Assembly, faced severe resistance from all right wing sections for arguing in favor of a Uniform Civil Code.

His contention was that only a common code and radical social reforms would remove inequities and all sorts of discriminations that conflicted with the fundamental rights.

Despite his honest efforts all he could manage was the mere mention of UCC in Article 44 of Part IV of the Directive Principles of State Policy which reads, “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”

Hence, seventy years post Independence, Indian society remains riddled in its self created social quagmires.

And quite astonishingly the earlier opponents of the UCC (so called right wing Hindu groups who opposed Hindu social reforms) have turned current supporters, and the earlier champions of the cause, the Congress party of Nehru, liberals and left ideologues have come to oppose the UCC as they see it as an “assertion of Hindutva.”

There are fanatical religious groups who paint the UCC as a tool for infringement of their right to practice and propagate their religion.

But the question is which voices need more hearing, the perpetuators of misogynist and supremacist traditions or the women who are the main sufferers of these regressive age old tribal practices.

It is not a hidden fact that millions of families and lives have been destroyed and there is the recent news report of an eighteen year old Arshiya from Baramati in Uttar Pradesh who has pleaded the Prime Minister to fast track the reform measures.

Her story is representative of countless others, as she was married off at the tender age of 16 to a rich vegetable trader, but by 18 served the “triple talaq” in writing, and asked to leave her husband’s home along with her eight-month old baby.

Arshiya’s distraught father Nissar Bagwan says, “The government must make efforts to bring uniform code. No one must suffer like my daughter. I am a poor vegetable vendor and I made a blunder by marrying off my daughter and not allowing her to complete her education.”

An organization fighting for Arshiya’s human rights, Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal talks of the vast misinformation campaign against UCC being spread by fundamental elements, pro-Shariat bodies, ulemas (religious heads) and All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).

Founder of the ‘Haji Ali Sabke Liye’ movement, Feroze Mithiborwala lauds Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to putting the debate in the public arena and has urged liberals and seculars from within the community to come forward to support UCC, enable a ban on polygamy, triple talaq and halala, and to treat the matter as a development issue and not view it through the communal prism.

It is however one thing to churn a public discourse and another to prolong the implementation of a reform.

No one can forget how the compulsions of vote bank politics swaying the secular Rajiv Gandhi government to buckle under the pressure of the Islamic orthodoxy in amending the Constitution and annulling a Supreme Court verdict to affirm vested male interest in the Shah Bano case in the 1980s.

Tahir Mehmood, ex-Chairman of National Minorities Commission and member of Law Commission of India truly states that the lack of will for initiating any social welfare and reform on part of the executive and legislative leads to a behavior of eliciting public responses.

Often the judiciary then has had to come to the forefront even as its mandate is to interpret a law essentially made by lawmakers.

This time too, it took the apex court (in October 2015) to remind the NDA government (free from necessities of minority appeasement) to deliver on its much touted election promise of 2014, of making UCC a reality.

To the court’s amazement the center responded, “The topic is too sensitive and needs a much wider consultation.”

To make it simple we could adhere to an Islamic scholar, Aziza Hibri advice, “Where there is no justice, there is no Islam.”

The conflict between “Allah’s Islam” and “Mullahs’ Islam” (mullah = priest) can only be tackled by reinterpreting Islam and sticking by the core values as enshrined in the Quran that are consonant with the fundamental rights and freedoms embedded in the Indian Constitution, as also the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.