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Mumbai’s march against triple talaq, 51 years ago

More than half a century ago, in Mumbai, seven women had displayed similar courage in bringing the pernicious practice of triple talaq into the public domain

mumbai Updated: Aug 24, 2017 00:33 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
triple talaq,Muslim women,Supreme Court
Shaista Amber, the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board president, and others celebrate the SC verdict on triple talaq in Lucknow on Tuesday.(HT )

The Supreme Court verdict on instant triple talaq as unlawful and unconstitutional has been largely welcomed. Conservative Muslims and organisations such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, expectedly, have issues with it.

It is a step – although a small one – in ensuring Muslim women’s right to justice. The abhorrent practice of instant and irrevocable divorce – talaq-e-biddat – should have been outlawed decades ago.

The initial joy swiftly gave way to a closer and less-enthusiastic reading of the judgment: It was a narrowly split verdict of 3:2, one of the five all-male panel of judges took recourse to theology and held it anti-Islamic, dissenting judges stated that triple talaq was a part of the right to religion under Article 25, and personal laws now stand elevated to the status of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

There will be debates on whether the Supreme Court did all it could to uphold fundamental rights, to enlarge the scope of gender justice and equality. But for the five brave women who had taken their personal battles against instant triple talaq to the court, against advice from families and community elders, the judgment is a relief – never mind its complications and questions.

Shayara Bano and Afreen Rehman were divorced by speed-post letters, Gulshan Parveen got her talaqnama on a Rs10 stamp paper, Ishrat Jahan heard the dreaded talaq-talaq-talaq words over a phone call, and Atiya Sabri got a scribbled note of divorce. The three words fundamentally changed their lives. Dozens of women’s organisations supported them in the court battle.

More than half a century ago, in Mumbai, seven women had displayed similar courage in bringing the pernicious practice of triple talaq into the public domain. All victims of the practice, they had been persuaded by the author and social reformer, the late Hamid Dalwai, to send out a strong message to the government and society at large against triple talaq, polygamy and nikah-halala.

On April 18, 1966, under his organisation Sada-e-Nisvan, this group had marched to Mantralaya to hand over a memorandum to the then Maharashtra chief minister Vasantrao Naik. A copy was sent to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. “Give justice to Muslim women” read the Marathi placard that Dalwai held. Other placards said: “Ban polygamy” and “We demand common civil law”. The group had condemned the Ulema, or Muslim clergy.

Dalwai, influenced by socialist and progressive thought, would set up the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal in March 1970.

He had drawn inspiration from the legendary 19th century social reformer Jotiba Phule’s Satyashodhak Mandal.

Socialist reformers in Pune such as Bhai Vaidya supported Dalwai as he worked with individual Muslim women and the community to rid it of unequal practices and push for education.

Dalwai was, according to historian Ramachandra Guha who included him in the book Makers of Modern India, among the last modernists.

The movement against triple talaq has its roots in that revolutionary Mumbai march, believes Dr Shamshuddin Tamboli who studied Dalwai’s work for his doctorate. Dalwai’s close associate in Pune, Sayyad Mehboob Shah Qadri known popularly as Sayyadbhai, has spoken about how Dalwai, his wife Mehrunissa and he were subjected to physical and verbal attacks by reactionary and conservative sections among Muslims.

In 1970, as the group began holding meetings of triple talaq victims, Sayyadbhai recalled, a few religious fanatics would organise counter-rallies of thousands against Dalwai. These fanatics formed the All India Muslim Personal Law Protection Committee in 1971, Tamboli explained, and, in 1973, it was registered as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the same body which has been arguing that triple talaq is a valid way to end marriage.

The Mandal welcomed the Supreme Court judgment but wants to see Parliament enact law that makes talaq-e-biddat punishable, and going forward, introduce a common civil law. That is another battle altogether, a more difficult and complicated one.

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 00:33 IST