The Darul Uloom Deoband does not seem to have learnt any lessons. After the flak it received for its bigoted verdict in the Imrana case in 2005 when it ruled that the victim, who had been raped by her father-in-law, could no longer live with her husband, one would have thought that the Darul Uloom would correct its regressive ways.
Now it has issued a similar fatwa against Salma, a mother of two, who was molested by her father-in-law. To add insult to injury, the fatwas in both cases contained veiled references to the victims having consented to the act.
Imrana and her husband did not take the fatwa lying down and after a protracted battle the court sentenced her father-in-law to ten years in jail and ordered that he compensate her. The present case, too, must have such an ending.
At the heart of the issue is that of community-specific laws overriding the law of the land. The common thread in all personal laws in India is that they discriminate against women in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance.
At one time, personal laws may have been required to counter insecurities among minorities. This no longer holds today. It is nobody’s case that all personal laws be thrown out of the window.
But those that come in direct conflict with our ideas of justice as confirmed by the law must have no place in anybody’s book, regardless of the community tag one carries. More equitable and progressive personal laws should be picked and incorporated into a blueprint for a uniform civil code.
Institutions like the Darul Uloom Deoband carry considerable weight among Muslims. So it is incumbent upon it to weigh its pronouncements carefully so that stereotypes are not reinforced.
The heartening development, as seen in the Imrana case, is that the victims, though unlettered and poor, are no longer willing to accept these fatwas blindly. The Darul Uloom should use its influence to push for issues like education and healthcare, instead of trying to dictate people’s personal lives. This way, it might win back some respect it has lost by issuing barbaric, retrograde fatwas.