This is a story that’s probably being repeated daily. “First he divorced me. Then he took away one of my children. When he didn’t allow me to meet my daughter I was suffered so much (trauma) I had a miscarriage,” says Reshma, fighting back tears, as she addresses a gathering of over 400 women in south Mumbai.
“He has taken away all my jewellery and is now planning to remarry. I have approached the police for help, but not much has happened. How am I supposed to look after myself,” asks this young Muslim woman, who hails from Uttar Pradesh.
The women, who are attending the 6th annual convention of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) at the Marathi Patrakar Sangh, are anguished over what they describe as the whimsical, patriarchal and one-sided interpretations of Muslim personal laws and they are demanding that a stop be put to this injustice.
(In Islam there are separate rules for divorce for men and for women under the Muslim personal law. A man initiates divorce by pronouncing talaq three times. There is no waiting period for the man to remarry, whereas the wife must usually wait three months.)
“The religious leaders and Muftis in our community are acting like courier boys. They neither support us, nor help us fight injustice that is perpetrated in the name of Islam,” says Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder member of the BMMA.
They want a ban on talaq right away and the codification of personal laws according to the Quran. BMMA has the backing of more than 4,000 people who have signed a memorandum on these demands.
“We will reach out to the minorities commission, the women’s commission and other rights’ bodies on this,” says Zakia Soman, another founder member of BMMA. “The government should also ensure that they reach out to the officials, the Ulemas and Muftis on the decision.”
While Reshma heard the verdict pronounced by her husband, another woman said that she learned of her separation from member of the community. “My husband left me three years ago. He has not met me since. Some people in the Jamaat tell me that he has divorced me. But I am uncertain about my status as I am unsure of what he may have said,” says Nikhat. She is also from UP.
“It is high time that this injustice stops. In fact it will be better if the male members of the community ensure that we get our rights that are due to us. This is a warning,” says another member of the andolan.