Interview: Zakia Soman

‘India needs codified Muslim family law’

Print edition : September 15, 2017

Zakia Soman. Photo: K. MURALI KUMAR

Interview with Zakia Soman, co-founder, BMMA.

ZAKIA SOMAN, one of the petitioners in the triple talaq case, has campaigned for the past decade against triple talaq through the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), an organisation she co-founded. In this interview, she responded to criticism about her organisation’s so-called links with the ruling dispensation by pointing out that for some “the time for gender justice is never right”. Excerpts:

Your thoughts on the Supreme Court judgment.

It is a welcome judgment. It could have been better and forthcoming. If all five in the bench had concurred, then they would have thought further. They could have, for instance, commented and come out with a workable and at the same time gender-just kind of a solution, a procedure [for divorce].

A section of opinion holds that the procedure is there in Sharia, that implementation is lacking.

When there is talk of reforms in Muslim laws, all of those who defend Sharia become defensive. And they start saying that everything ideal is there in Sharia. Then why did so many women feel compelled to go to courts? There is a problem in the practice [of talaq] because there are misinterpretations [of Sharia] which back this practice. This [Muslim] Personal Law Board took so long to admit that triple talaq is not Quranic. But there are still ifs and buts.

So, the BMMA is opposed to Sharia?

Yes. We are very clear that the word or message of Allah is found in the Quran. Sharia is man-made. Now, why should we agree to laws drafted by men? It has provisions favourable to men and they justify their unjust behaviour in the name of Sharia. So we ask: who has made this law and were women consulted while making it? Do women who get thrown out of their homes through triple talaq get asked what they feel about it? It is a fight against patriarchy.

Does Sharia need reform in India?

We are very clear that India needs a codified Muslim family law based on the Quran, which has equal rights for women in all aspects of life, not just in marriage and family but in society also. That is our constitutional right. You made a Hindu Marriage Act in 1955, you made a Hindu Succession Act in 1956. Why has Parliament not passed a Muslim Family Act? Parliament has also amended, from time to time, the Christian marriage and divorce Act. If there are laws for other communities based on their religious texts being reconciled with the Constitution, why have Muslim women been deprived of that legal protection?

What do you expect from the law that Parliament has been asked to draft?

We want Parliament to bring a Muslim family law based on the Quran and conforming to the constitutional values; we are very clear that there is no clash between the two. Since 2008 we have been working on a draft Muslim family law and we have spoken with 100,000 women across the country. In a meeting in Murshidabad district in West Bengal, women told us they want to ensure that the age of marriage should be 18 or 21, triple talaq should be prohibited, punishment should be given to those practising halala , polygamy should be illegal, and kids’ custody should be with the mother. All of these things are there in a draft we have been working on. We will share it first with women parliamentarians.

Can a uniform civil code help Muslim women?

A uniform civil code is all about politics and not gender justice. It is a totally separate issue. It is an issue for the entire Indian population to consider. Let’s not call it uniform civil code, let’s call it common secular code. It is desirable for gender justice. But a common secular code can be brought about only when the whole society is empowered; when there is a history of women and girls getting equal treatment; when women, especially, are empowered to have a choice, not just legally but also socially. For now, the Special Marriage Act needs to be strengthened. It does not cover inheritance and property related issues. So make it a comprehensive law and popularise it, and teach girls in schools that it is their right. Let her choose whether she wants her saptapadi and kanyadaan marriage or a nikaah or a church wedding or a registered marriage.

How do you respond to allegations that you are facilitating the government and ruling party’s agenda?

Our mission started over a decade ago and we have been steadfast in it. Our mission is gender justice in Islam coupled with equal citizenship for women in the real sense. Now, it so happens that in the last election, the UPA was defeated and the NDA came to power. It is not of our making. The people elected this government, and as far as triple talaq is concerned, this government’s affidavit was correct. That is all there is to it.

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