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Women like Shayara Bano deserve the nation’s applause

Indian women are demonstrating that they are capable of paving the way for social reforms on their own steam. Now their juggernaut will be unstoppable

columns Updated: Aug 27, 2017 15:27 IST
Shayara Bano,Triple Talaq,Muslim women
Shayara Bano has emerged as a beacon of hope for tormented women who have been given instant triple divorce by their husbands(Hindustan Times)

I urge those who are intent on perceiving instant triple talaq an issue only about the rights of Muslim women, to look back at the history of India. I am sure they’ll find the answers for many of their questions there.

Let me begin with an example that pre-dates both Christianity and Islam. When Chandragupta Maurya, born in an ordinary family, assumed power in 321 BC by unseating the Nanda dynasty, which force was at work? It wasn’t just the handiwork of Chanakya, who had arrived from faraway Taxila. Believing this theory will be poetic sentimentality. There are dozens of examples in India of a change in government through the instrument of people’s power.

As far as social change is concerned, without going very far, let us begin by discussing sati (widow burning). A vocal advocate for ending this regressive practice and launching a movement in this direction was Raja Ram Mohan Roy. His initiative couldn’t have been successful had he not got the backing of the Hindu majority. The British rulers were aware of the contradictions within our society. They were interested in everything that could divide Indians on caste, communal and parochial lines. Despite that they agreed to create a law to abolish the practice of sati since they realised that sooner or later, the majority of the Indian population was bound to boycott it.

The question is, is simply making a law enough to banish social ills?

No, the prevalence of the dowry system is living proof of this misconception. Despite an anti-dowry law existing for a long time, the heinous practice continues even today. And leading the battle with this social ill are not the guardians of our Constitution but ordinary women. You must have read in newspaper reports that a number of brides have turned back the marriage parties of those grooms who were asking for dowry. Of late, in the past few months, we have also read reports where girls have refused to get married if there was no toilet in the groom’s residence. Clearly, Indian women are demonstrating that they are capable of paving the way for social reforms on their own.

A large number of women from the Muslim community, who publicly celebrated the verdict on instant triple talaq, are symbolic of this shift in mindset. During this time we also saw a number of men who came out publicly against the practice of instant triple talaq. Hearing the statement of a father on television made me emotional. He is the father of five daughters. Two of them are divorced and the other three are not finding suitors because their elder sisters’ marriages have broken down. Shayara Bano has emerged as a beacon of hope for such tormented women.

Even for those opposing the triple talaq verdict, our Constitution has the provision of a review petition. If even that is rejected, they can still file a curative petition in an appropriate court. I am not sure about the stand that the judiciary will take, but it is true that changes such as these are like a deluge – once they take shape it is impossible to control them.

Consider the examples of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Within hours of the verdict being delivered, a case was filed in Kanpur against a former woman MLA and five other people for deserting a woman and proclaiming triple talaq when their demand for dowry wasn’t met. Similarly Patna’s Atiya Fatima, whose doctor husband allegedly divorced her over the phone, has filed a police complaint against instant triple talaq. How many verdicts with such an immediate impact have you seen in the country?

Why don’t the few people still making uncharitable remarks about the verdict look at Pakistan and Bangladesh? These are Islamic nations. Pakistan divorced instant triple talaq in 1961 itself. Bangladesh hasn’t even bothered to adopt it since the country’s genesis. Clearly, these social malpractices were nurtured in India thanks to the insecurities created by our politicians. The self-styled custodians of religion supported them for selfish gains but the women of India have given them a reality check by winning the judicial battle. Here it is important to clarify that the first country to say no to instant triple talaq was Egypt. In 1929, after a few amendments, it was discarded. The 22 countries that have placed restrictions on this practice include many Muslim nations such as Turkey, Iran, Tunisia, Algeria and Malaysia. Although the verdict in India was delayed, but it was appropriate.

I salute women like Shayara and others trying to bring in social reforms in the country. Their juggernaut will be unstoppable now.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief Hindustanletters@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Aug 27, 2017 15:27 IST