January 15, 2018:
The Muslim Society and Women: Lifting The Veil by Mansi Agarwal
‘Women equality’ is the most talked about and debated issue till date. Even after 70 years of independence, the status of women in our country has not gained significant improvement.
Due to the patriarchal nature of our society disparities continue to exist between the rights assured to women and the position assigned to them by the society.
The status of women is still not at par with men, especially in smaller cities, but sadly for Muslim women the situation is most grave. To be a Muslim woman and to stand up for one’s rights is an ongoing struggle. The task becomes even more wearing when she has to bear the brunt of religious discrimination by the conceited majority class of our country.
The Holy Quran emparts equal rights to both men and women, but discriminatory practices such as the purdah system, rights in property, improper maintenance along with the practice of polygamy by Muslim men, are still prevalent.
Marriage under the Muslim Law is considered to be a contract mainly for the purpose of procreation. The present definition of marriage in Muslims has been aberrantly misinterpreted, what was once considered to be a sacrament is now defined by the legal luminaries as a mere contract just because it contains all the essentials of a contract.
The fact that Muslim Laws have been subject to wrong interpretations is evident from the practice of polygamy amongst Muslim men. The Prophet Mohammad sanctioned the practice of polygamy once, after the battle of Udad when only 70 men survived out of 700, to overcome the plight of widows and orphans.
Polygamy, according to him was a definite way of ensuring the well being of women and children during that era. But he also clearly said, that a man should only marry more than once if he is capable enough to offer same societal position and love to all his wives, without any discrimination.
But his words have been misread over the centuries by the male dominated society which has caused the practice of polygamy to be still prevalent amongst Muslims.
Most recently, the Supreme Court of India declared that the practice of Triple Talaq(https://www.latestlaws.com/sc-strikes-triple-talaq-unconstitutional-paves-way-uniform-civil-code-read-text/) as unconstitutional, and is now a banned practice. But again if we try and trace back the origin of Triple Talaq, there is no approval of the same in Holy Quran.
The practice of triple talaq was introduced by the Ommeyad kings in order to circumvent the law, and thus it became a customary practice with no religious background. It makes us think, what are we actually relying upon, the holy book, the irrational customs or the misguided interpretations.
The highest obligation for a husband is to maintain his wife, however, a divorced Muslim wife has no right to maintenance post Iddat period (3 months of waiting period post divorce). A significant means to ensure well being of a wife in Islam is the practice of Mehr(Dower).
Dower is an obligation imposed upon the husband as a mark of respect for the wife, and the wife can demand her dower at any time. As a matter of fact, non payment of dower is one of the ground for divorce in favor of women, but lack of knowledge and emotional distress makes it difficult for a woman to exercise her right on the dower.
With changing times, modernisation and education, Muslim women are coming forth and taking the charge of their own destiny. Just few days ago, the present government came forth with the new Haj policy which allows Muslim women to travel alone on pilgrimage. About 1,300 women have applied to perform Haj without a male guardian or ‘mahram’, which is a progressive step ahead.
However the plight of Muslim women is not restricted to her own religious practices, in the name of religion they are discriminated against(alongside Men) when it comes to employment, education, health care facilities, child care facilities and access to basic amenities on everyday basis.
The true concern for Muslim women in our country is not coming down hard on divorce laws and penalising them or performing Haj without a male guardian, it is to live a dignified life.
Justice P.N. Bhagwati’s description of the Right to dignity in Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi and others(https://indiankanoon.org/doc/78536/) reads:
“The right to live includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, viz., the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings and must include the right to basic necessities the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of human self.”
The fact that the previously mentioned revisions in law in favor of Muslim women, are welcome steps, however, there is much more that needs to be done at the grassroot level to put the premise of Article 21 into motion.
Bare Acts with Latest Laws-
- Anand Marriage Act,1909
- Arya Marriage Validation Act,1937
- Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 1886
- Caste Disablities Removal Act, 1850
- Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act,1987
- Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act,1939
- Divorce Act,1869
- Dowry Prohibition Act,1961
- Family Courts Act,1984
- Foreign Marriage Act,1969
- Foreign Marriage Act,1969
- Guardians and Wards Act,1890
- Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act,1956
- Hindu Marriage Act,1955
- Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act,1956
- Hindu Succession Act,1956
- Indian and Colonial Divorce Jurisdiction Act, 1940
- Indian Christian Marriage Act,1872
- Indian Succession Act,1925
- Kazis Act,1880
- Marriages Validation Act, 1892
- Married Women’s Property (Extension) Act, 1959
- Married Women’s Property Act, 1874
- Maternity Benefits Act,1961
- Matrimonial Causes (War Marriages) Act 1948
- Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act,1937
- Muslim Women (Protection of Rights On Divorce) Act, 1986
- Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act,1986
- National Commission for Women Act,1990
- Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act,1936
- Special Marriage Act,1954
- Women’s And Children’s Institutions (Licensing) Act, 1956
- Working Journalists (Fixation of Rates of Wages) Act, 1958