A group of Bengali Muslim intellectuals has launched a last minute drive to collect one lakh signatures from Muslim women and men demanding abolition of triple talaq and polygamy with the objective of submitting them before the President and Prime Minister before the country’s apex court starts hearing on the legality of triple talaq, halala marriage and polygamy on May 11.
“We have already collected about 55,000 signatures, most of them from Muslim women. We’ll submit the signatures by May 9 and on May 10 we’ll sit on a day-long dharna at Jantar Mantar. We want the centre to strongly advocate abolition of these practices during the hearing in the court,” said Osman Mallick, headmaster of a government-run high school in West Bengal. He had also filed a petition in Supreme Court last November.
Incidentally, late last year a signature collection war broke out between All India Muslim Personal Law Board that launched a nationwide drive to collect signatures of people “to save and protect Shariat Laws” --- related to marriage, divorce and inheritance, while women’s rights groups unleashed a counter-campaign.
During a recent visit to West Bengal, union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said West Bengal accounted for the second highest number of triple talaq victims. Last year, with tacit support from ruling Trinamool Congress leaders, Kolkata also hosted the first major rally in the country by Muslim religious leaders in support of continuing with the practices.
The signatures are being collected from various districts on behalf of a Joint Movement Committee formed by several secular Muslim organisations that have been campaigning for the rights of the Muslim women and opposing religious fundamentalism. The organisations include Progressive Muslim Society, Reformist Muslim Society and Secular Mission.
“Our signature campaign is aimed at making the union government aware of what the Muslim women want. In a meeting recently held by the orthodox religio-social leadership from the community announced that Muslim women campaigners like us are enemy of the Community. I would better be branded like that than being a dumb witness to the injustices against Muslim women,” said Syed Tanveer Nasreen, a professor of women’’s studies at Burdwan University and a prominent campaigner against patriarchy in Muslim society.
A five-judge Constitution bench is scheduled to finish the hearing on the legality of orally pronounced triple talaq, halala marriage and polygamy among Muslims between May 11 and 19. The case originated from petitions filed by some Muslim women who sought abolition of these practices and argued they contradicted the fundamental rights ensured by the Constitution.
While All India Muslim Personal Law Board has opposed the idea, arguing that the practices have the sanction of the Quran, the Centre of have so far backed abolition of the practices.
According to Kazi Masum Akhtar, headmaster of a government-run school in Kolkata who had to be transferred from a government-run madrasa in the face of life threats from some Muslim religious groups, the signature campaign has drawn more support that initially expected.
“Previously, Muslim women dared not speaking against these social evils but now, largely due to escalated campaign from the secular Muslims who want reforms in the community, more and more women are speaking out,” Akhtar said.