Dear Members of the Muslim Personal Law Board.....
NEW DELHI: I am an older woman now, well looked after by my adult children but it was not always so. I was married as a young girl into a conservative family. I was never conservative and did not realise the pressures that a woman---be she of any religion or caste in India---is subjected to when she comes into a home where her being a woman in itself is frowned upon. And more so if she is a walking, talking individual, with the benefit of the best education, and taught by her parents to speak her mind as they never saw any difference between the girl and the boy.
So it was a bit of a shock for me to find that what I thought was normal was not really so. But I was too young to really understand, and treated my husbands family as my own. I laughed, and joked, but soon came up against a wall of anger and hostility. Upset, and distraught I went home to visit my parents. And on the fourth day, received a letter in the post from my husband. Talaq, Talaq, Talaq stared out at me. I had been divorced without even being given a chance.
I soon found out I was expecting. I had my child nine months later. I was in deep depression. And life that I always looked upon as a lark changed completely. I will not bore you with the details of all that I went through in those years, hut suffice it to say it was perhaps the most difficult and dreadful period of my life.
I have worked with Muslim women since. Not in an organised manner, but as and when I could. I came across this young woman working as a maid in Delhi. She was from Lucknow originally and found her way to Delhi to survive. She had five children, when her husband walked out on her to marry again. She was left destitute, pennlless as unlike me she was from a very poor background, living in a jhuggi and nothing else above her head. She could not get a job in Lucknow but a relative encouraged her to come to Delhi after some weeks, where her children were just a thread away from starvation, and start work. Her children are now with her mother in Lucknow, she sends back money for their clothes and food and cries every night as she cannot be with them. As for her husband, he is married again and happy.
This story is the story of hundreds, nay thousands of Muslim women. We have been fighting against this terrible practice of triple talaq but you have never really heard us. You have refused to hear us as you are all male members who pretend to be the custodians of the Shariah, but do not have the courage or the intelligence, or the knowledge to understand it in the spirit it was written. Instead of interpreting the law in a progressive manner, you impose a narrow, restrictive reading of the personal law on us and insist that is the way the religion ordained. When it is not so, as the religion itself was very progressive, it liberated women from harems, it gave them rights at a time when no one even looked at them, and did so in the hope that the law would always be read as part of the times. Because of you a law that was progressive thouse hundreds of years ago, indeed a revolution insofar as gender rights were concerned, appears regressive today when the world has gone far beyond in empowering women, and giving us justice.
You dear members have always stood between us and empowerment by insisting that you alone have the power to interpret the Muslim Personal Law. How and why? What gives you that exalted position? I agree with you that we do not want, and certainly do not need, this government to intervene. And I am with you when you oppose it, tooth and nail. But I am not with you either dear members in claiming control of the law, as you have let us down over and over again.
You have kept us shackled by refusing to revisit the law, and you have used your weight to keep women under your control. Why is that only the gender aspect of the personal law interests you, where the man can control the woman and determine his life as it were? What about the financial aspect? Or is that too inconvenient?
I am a woman who has lost all patience with you. I do not believe you as I have heard you speak the same words for decades now. Maybe the members were different but your Board has adopted a status quo that is clearly unshakeable. I do not need the government to intervene either. I do not trust those who have shown no compassion for the minorities, the marginalised and the poor of these country. As for me compassion is all inclusive, and all pervasive, and cannot be selective. As selective compassion is politics, and that is often ugly and divisive.
But having said that dear members I only want you now to step aside. Do not work to bring an end to triple talaq as you said in 18 months, let we the women do it. We are doing it, our women are in the courts for justice already. All I ask is do not come in the way. Stay out of it. That alone is enough. Just leave us alone. So that we can ensure that the government too leaves us alone. We just need a fair, impartial judiciary to address our concerns. We do not want, or need, intermediaries such as you both.
And as I sign off, a suggestion. Your next step, dear Sirs, (I think there is a lady member with you as well, poor woman) can be to dissolve the Board altogether, as what good is such a body when it does not embrace the women who are the victims, and ensure their protection and their security? And it sits upholding a law that is obsolete, and open to the interpretation provided for in the religious text itself. You cannot see it because you are blind with arrogance. If you could open your minds, you would sharpen your sight as well.
An Independent, Equal and Proud Muslim Woman