Triple talaq: Is appeasing Muslim patriarchy the sole purpose of AIMPLB and Kapil Sibal?

Women are suddenly worried their 'victory' might reduce them to pawns in the passage of Uniform Civil Code.

 |  5-minute read |   16-05-2017
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The past couple of days had seen a lot of positive momentum building towards equality and gender justice for Muslim women in India. The Supreme Court through a five-member constitutional bench has been hearing petitions challenging the practice of triple talaq. The first two days of the hearing (May 11-May 19) were reserved for debates against the practice of pronouncing triple talaq in one go.

Heavyweights from the legal fraternity were found submitting their arguments in this case.

Justice Kurian Joseph asked, “Can something which is considered abhorrent by religion be validated by law?”

This question set the right tone and in itself answers many other questions. In court, senior counsel Amit Singh Chadha told the constitution bench that if Islamic countries can do away with it then surely it is not an essential part of Muslim religion. Former minister of state Arif Mohd Khan likened it to the pre-Islamic practice of burying alive newborn baby girls.

Assailing the practice of triple talaq, senior counsel Indira Jaising said during the hearing that if the free informed consent of the woman was imperative for the union of two people in marriage, then how could the unilateral act of divorce survive.

talaq_051617065306.jpgThe arguments that Kapil Sibal presented were nothing new and very much on the expected lines.

These arguments gave us hope. The first whiff of victory felt near. Muslim women were feeling upbeat, joyous, celebratory. Our voices were being heard. We felt we had a stake in society and our cultural and social structures. This excitement was palpable in the many conversations and messages we exchanged. Down with patriarchy, we exclaimed. We are daughters of Hazrat Khadija in the land of Kali and we felt proud of not being token victims anymore. In fact, much of the conversations in Muslim women's circles were moving beyond triple talaq.

What's next, we asked. Where do we need more intervention? How can we make our young girls move towards higher education and jobs? A holistic empowerment was being discussed that is not just tokenism.

And then came Kapil Sibal representing the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) at the Supreme Court. It is well-known that the AIMPLB is more or less a rich boys' club, which has token Muslim women representation and where any dissenting voices are pushed away. Sibal, representing this boys' club, has been trying to derail the positive momentum in court.

The arguments that he presented were nothing new and very much on the expected lines.

Sibal said, "We must protect different cultures. If it is bad, educate them and make them realise it is bad and make laws… We also want to change. Our submission is somebody else should not interfere and force the change on us."

Ever since the Court took suo motu notice of this case, AIMPLB has been talking about reforms within. The best they have come up with are guidelines and a call for social boycott. Had this case not grabbed national attention, then perhaps this tokenism of calling for reforms within also would not have been talked about.

The larger question is who will boycott whom? It seems to be a classic case of men making up their own laws like instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat in violation of Quran and then making up their own punishments like social boycott. If left to AIMPLB, the Muslim women and their voices will disappear from the public space.

Other arguments by Sibal were downright simplistic. For instance, when he said in court that triple talaq is a 1,400-year-old practice and so it cannot be un-Islamic. Sibal argued it is part of custom, not placing reliance on whether it is Quaranic mandate or not. This line of argument is almost laughable.

Just because "Sati" was a custom, does that mean it should not have been banned?

It shows the lack of empathy for women. Very unexpected from a man of Sibal's stature.

Basing their arguments on traditions but not citing examples from the Quran in support of those same arguments has been an old weapon of patriarchy. And if nothing else works, then they resort to slut-shaming. Thankfully, they will not be able to do the last bit in courts.

Mulsim women are now worried over Sibal's final arguments. He said in court today (May 16) "that Ram was born in Ayodhya is a matter of faith, not constitutional morality; same in this case. It is not a question of equity and good conscience, it is a question of faith. You cannot bring Constitutional morality".

What kind of argument was that?

It’s like opening a can of worms, literally. And does reek of arm-twisting in the name of religion. All very expected from a body like the AIMPLB which has done nothing but been a pawn in votebank politics since its inception. This analogy only gives fodder to strengthen the argument in favour of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Something which we had been successfully skirted away from till now.

This whole case was about following the prescribed divorce procedure in Quran as against the customary instant triple talaq in one sitting followed by some sects in Islam. All Islamic scholars agree that Quran does not favour arbitrary divorce in nine seconds, but one that is spread over 90 days in three sittings with attempts at arbitration.

What is happening instead is that there is confusion in nomenclatures and all kinds of talaq procedures are being clubbed together. This mix up is actually allowing backdoor entry of UCC. The country’s top law officer said on Monday (May 15) that the government will write a new matrimony law for Muslims to fill the legal vacuum should the Supreme Court strike down triple talaq.

This is why the Muslim women are suddenly worried if our victory is fast turning out to be a game of being pawns in the passage of UCC. We, the Muslim women, are not against the Quranic talaq — divorce proceedings — but the arbitrary man-made procedure to do so. There is a difference and that is imperative to be understood right now. Hope the long-awaited justice will prevail. 

Also read: Has Kapil Sibal opened a can of worms by equating Ram Janmabhoomi and triple talaq?

Writer

Nazia Erum Nazia Erum @nazia_e

Nazia Erum is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling book, 'Mothering A Muslim'. She writes on the intersections of gender, faith and politics.

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