NEW DELHI: Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan (BMMA), was started in January 2007, by a group of secular,courageous women to fight for equality of gender justice within the Muslim community. Over the years this organisation has raised many issues related to the status of women in the social and legal sphere. Right now this organization is fighting for the abolition of triple talaq and doctrine of halala. Almost 50,000 women have signed the petition in favour of its abolition. They are also training women to become clerics to end the hegemony of the men on the religious platform.

BMMA conducted a survey in 2015 on 4,710 Muslim women across 10 states and found that 92.1 percent women want a total ban on oral/unilateral (which also includes talaq given by sms, phone, letter or e-mail, according to the survey) divorce. They are demanding equal status for women legally and socially since the beginning.

Zakia Soman, the co-founder of the BMMA spoke to The Citizen on triple talaq and other issues:

Q. What prompted you to establish this organization?

This was started 10years. We all had our own journeys that brought us where we are. In 2001, 9/11 happened and after one year in 2002 Gujarat riot happened it was a time when we became more conscious about our Muslim identity. Sachhar Committee report came in 2005 in which it was reported the miserable conditions of Muslims and how backward we are educationally or financially. During these times we realized how unequal we as women are in social and legal forum too. There was a denial of the space for women within the Muslim community which was the reason we started this organization to give voice to those women who like us also feel that we have not become equal citizens and also equal Muslims.

Q. Do you find any difference between the conditions of women in the Muslim community and others?

We have to accept the fact that lot of subjugation of women happens in the pretext of religion around the world. In our country in the case of marriage, succession or divorce every community have their own laws where women are given equal status as per men except Muslim women. Even though women of other communities are marginalized socially but legally they enjoy freedom which we are demanding.

Q. What is the reason that your entire campaign is right now focusing on Tripple Talaq and issue on Doctrine of Halala?

Our ultimate goal is comprehensive reform in Muslim personal and we want the parliament of India to pass a Muslims Family Law based on Quran which also confirms upon the constitutional principles of justice and equality. But it is a long term campaign which will take time to take effect and majority of the cases we receive from women is on triple talaq and its effect upon them. We held the first national public hearing on triple talaq in December 2012, in which around 500 women participated. There we realized that overall change will take time but this is what we need urgently for the betterment of the conditions of women.

Q. What are the reactions of men and women within the Muslim community?

Majority of the women in the community are in support of the triple talaq abolition. There is a good ratio of men in support of its abolition as well. Now even they are realizing that this practice of triple talaq or halala which is not even Quranic is actually tarnishing the image of our religion. Every woman is someone’s daughter or sister so women alone are not suffering because of this. Whenever such thing happens entire family suffers. So, yes even there are men in support of its abolition.

Q. What is the stand of Maulvis or Ulemma’s on this issue?

All India Muslim Personal Law Board is still opposing it in Supreme Court also and they are the biggest hurdle right now. But the truth is neither the personal law board enjoys so much support from the common masses as it does before neither they are a face of the community. There is a lot of opposition of personal law board also.

There is orthodox and patriarchal male clergy who are opposing it saying that any reform will be interference in our religion. So these kinds of male chauvinist are our biggest hurdle.

Q. You were mentioning earlier that your long term goal is codification of Muslim law and the triple talaq abolition but as we all know that there are lot of Muslim sects in India who follow different practices. So will it be possible in this scenario?

Codified law is a long term process and it will take time. It can be implemented by support of all the sects. But triple talaq is not valid as per any sect or even Islamic principles. Amongst Shia’s in India triple talaq is not practiced and they don’t hold it as legally valid. All this diversity and pluralism should lead to something good and to give minimum protection to women. No amount of diversity can justify triple talaq or nikah halala. It cannot be accepted by any sect of Islam or any religion.

Q. All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) is strongly opposing your view on its abolishment. How much support do AIMPLB enjoys within community and do they have a legal backing?

. There are lot of NOG’s working in our country and AIMPLB is just another NGO. They do not enjoy any legal backing. They are the one opposing us in Supreme Court also but SC is not going to accept their viewpoint considering how baseless it is. They have given arguments in support of polygamy as like a man is doing a favour to a woman marrying many times. They have also presented an argument in SC on triple talaq that, “talaq is better than murder.” So we can see that they are just a group of people supporting patriarchy in the community. They are not the real face of the community.

Q. Darul – Uloom- Niswan the centre for learning Islamic theology where you are training women qazi’s. What are the reasons that you started this? Tell us more about it.

Women are now days becoming more aware of their rights. They are capable to read Quran, translate and interpret it. The main role of qazi is to complete nikah ceremony and carry out divorce. Since majority of qazi’s are men so to sensitize them towards women’s right and to get their support is a long term process. Besides in Quran there is no bar on women qazi. Hence, we started training women qazi so that they can actually understand their right with respect to Quran. We have trained one batch and by April this year we are going to conclude that batch of women qazi. This will actually help us to end the hegemony of men in our religion. Around the world this is happening and women are coming forward to read Quran in a gender just framework.

Q. You and your organization has always clarified that their main objective is to reform Muslim personal law and not implement Uniform Civil Code (UCC). What is the reason for this differentiation?

After Independence the main aim of UCC was gender justice basically. Now days it actually has got involved in lot of politics. UCC should be a concern of entire Indian population and not just Muslims. It is a long term process and can’t be achieved in few years. But before that we have remove the legal discrimination towards the Muslim women. Our Sharia Act is of 1937 and it is silent on polygamy, triple talaq or nikah halala. The women of our community have to be at par with the women of other communities and then afterwards if the entire population of India is discussing UCC then we have no issues. But first we want legal justice.

Q. We have seen women in support of its abolition but lot of rallies have been organised around India against the abolition of triple talaq. In those rallies thousands of women have participated. What are your views on them?

Majority of men and women who participated in those rallies are not because of its abolition but because of they are not been informed by these maulvis and specially All India Muslim Personal Law Board about the correct teachings of quran and its verses. These people have in rallies given speeches saying “our religion in danger” or “If we won’t stop this there will be a time when we won’t be able to read namaaz”. These are the hate they are spreading which is harmful for entire society. This cannot be seen that women over there are in full support of triple talaq. And besides the signature that they took was not for triple talaq but it mentioned that “we support Muslim law board and we want no change in the Sharia law.” So we can see they are just spreading lies and nothing else. This is not the voice of the people. Consent is not valid if not informed properly.

Q. There are allegations on you that you are working on the behest of RSS.

Everyone who knows me they have an idea what kind of a person I am and what work I have done for the society. There are some people who are spreading these false rumours. They are actually the one who had given me awards for my work in Gujarat. Besides what interest will RSS have for gender justice in Muslim community? Why would they be interested? They are just spreading lies to divert me from my work.

Q. What do you think is the future of your organization and has there been any improvement in women’s condition over the years?

Over the years there are some changes happening in the attitude of Muslim community but the process is slow. Sachhar committee report suggested some measure to uplift Muslim community but nothing has been implemented by the government. Muslim women are working and employed too but on minimal wages and without any social security. So, even though we hope for a bright future but still it’s a long way to go but we need strong support of government for this.