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Gender justice based on Quranic tenets should gain legitimacy

Tuesday, 22 July 2014 - 8:11pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has recently codified a Muslim personal law titled The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Bill based on Quranic tenets, from the perspective of gender justice. BMMA co-founder Noorjehan Safia Niaz speaks to Jiby J Kattakayam on the draft legislation, the Supreme Court judgment on shariat courts, and the Uniform Civil Code.

Your views on the Supreme Court ruling that shariat courts have no legal sanctity? Will the judgment help Muslim women?
We welcome the judgment although it states nothing not known already. The BMMA runs the Aurton ki Shariat Adalat. Alternate dispute resolution forums draw legitimacy from the Constitution, otherwise they cannot exist. They are not parallel but are complimentary to the formal legal system which is expensive, inaccessible, formal and formidable. A poor woman is ill-equipped to seek recourse without loads of money and patience. The problem is the lack of State monitoring. So anti-Quranic and anti-constitutional orders get pronounced. The scope for arbitrary and unjust edicts/judgments, which are invariably against women, recedes with a codified, Quran-compliant Muslim family law. Rules regarding age of marriage, polygamy, method of divorce, mehr amount, custody of children, maintenance and inheritance are much-needed and our draft serves this purpose.

How do you expect the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the BJP and the Congress to respond to your draft?
AIMPLB is an NGO like any other NGO. It is not a statutory body mandated to represent the community. In the communities we work, few have heard of them. They have claimed for themselves the community’s leadership but don’t behave like responsible leaders. They are dogmatic, conservative and far removed from notions of justice. AIMPLB refuses to acknowledge the legal problems Muslim women face. Even Pakistan and Bangladesh have codified their laws. Discussions are futile with those who think all is well with Muslim women. Our draft goes against the BJP-led central government’s manifesto supporting Uniform Civil Code. The Congress which has fed off Muslim votes with clergy support refuses to acknowledge the problem for the fear of losing male votes; as if Muslim women are not a community. However sceptical we may be about the present government, we need to engage with it to further the cause of Muslim women.

The Centre is making noises about enacting a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). What is your organisation’s views on UCC?
We are not in favour of a compulsory UCC. In fact an optional UCC already exists in the form of the Special Marriage Act. Whoever wants to opt out of their personal law can do so even now. Why is the question about UCC posed only to Muslims? Are Hindus willing to give up the Hindu Marriage or Succession Acts, are the Christians and Parsis willing to give up their personal laws? Let them all, starting with the Hindu majority, first give up their personal laws. UCC is one more political gimmick and a tool to beat the community with. Why is there a false understanding that personal laws are not constitutionally mandated. In fact, we want a codified Muslim law enacted by Parliament just as other laws.

Would the UCC succeed in giving a gender-just legislation independent of religious and caste beliefs?
We believe that personal laws of all communities are linked to our identities, whether we like it or not. Extricating these laws from religious identities will be difficult. It will only harden those identities further. The purpose of law is to enable justice and if UCC can not help, what purpose does it serve? BMMA believes that we should at least get what the others have got, a codified personal law. We don’t even have that. If personal laws reflect legal pluralism, so be it. Justice for women must be primary; not a law that nobody wants. Which brings us to the question on who wants UCC: the BJP or the common Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Parsi?

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