Interview: Hasina Khan

‘Our fight is against patriarchy’

Print edition : September 15, 2017

Hasina Kha.

Interview with Hasina Khan, founder of Bebaak Collective.

HASINA KHAN started Bebaak Collective, which became the first organisation to intervene in the Shayara Bano case in April 2016. Excerpts from an interview she gave Frontline on the triple talaq verdict:

How did you get involved in the case and did you expect such a verdict?

We first read about the Shayara Bano case in the newspapers and realised that it was important that we intervene. From experience we knew that whenever a woman goes to court, a lot of pressure is put on her. So, we spoke to a lot of women’s groups and together made an intervention.

For the first time, Muslim women have been addressed from a constitutional framework. It is very important for us that gender discrimination and violence are addressed on the basis of constitutional rights. In that sense, the judgment is historic.

To be honest, we were not expecting this kind of a judgment. We thought the courts might pass the buck on to the AIMPLB [All India Muslim Personal Law Board] or the community.

What next? A new law is to be formulated within six months.

Many women have been waiting for this judgment. Hopefully this opens up the way ahead for other important fights, including equal property rights. Whenever Parliament prepares a draft on whichever personal law, it should be done in a consultative manner, along with women’s groups and their experts. There should not be a limited time frame.

While the BJP seems divided on what is to be done, we hope that they do not force their ideology into the draft. Amit Shah said they would bring the Shariat Act in Parliament within six months, but [Mukhtar Abbas] Naqvi said that since the court had given its judgment there was no need to bring further amendments.

There are very few Muslim MPs in Parliament.

In this issue, it is immaterial whether there are Muslim members in Parliament or not. In 1986, with the participation of Muslim MPs, a very bad Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act was brought in. In between too, Muslim participants have only created problems for Muslim women. If such MPs are to become our representatives, then we have had it. Actually it’s not about Muslims and non-Muslims here. It is the responsibility of all MPs, no matter from which party or religion, to look at all personal laws with a gender-just lens and rectify the problems, ignorance and negligence in each of them. But, of course, at one level, there is some fear from the right wing. After all, the BJP’s uniform civil code plan is specifically targeted at Muslim personal law.

Who will bear the onus of implementation?

As far as implementation and taking it to the people is concerned, it will require long-term strategies. We will be paying close attention to the role of State governments. The good thing is that there is already enough awareness. And we have got tremendous response from families, relatives and neighbours hailing it as a positive judgment.

Personal laws prioritise marriage and blood relations. But the concept of family has changed in the Muslim community. The newer generation is involved in different kinds of relationships that are not recognised by personal laws.

The BJP is taking credit for it.

Of course, the BJP is taking credit for it, but the fact is that ever since we went to court over the matter, various viewpoints have emerged. Political parties that talk of the Muslim community and protection of its rights haven’t really spoken about gender issues. This is a big failure of such political parties who speak of secular credentials but haven’t shown any responsibility or clarity on Muslim women’s issues. The BJP took advantage of that. To all those people who are telling us that we gave an opportunity to the BJP, we want to ask them: why didn’t you do anything?

Some said triple talaq was not really an issue as the statistics did not match up.

Whether the number is one or 100, the fact is that Muslim women are facing it. Who is to say whether 100 is a small number or not? Instant talaq is adhered to by 80 per cent of the Muslim population. But the three-month talaq, or talaq-e-hasan, followed by the non-Sunnis is also discriminatory, non-consensual and problematic, as it is unilateral and the man has the power to initiate or dissolve.

Also, the image of women versus men or progressive versus religious conservative is problematic. We are not out to criminalise Muslim men or feed into the media’s creation of aggressive Muslim men. Our fight is against patriarchy and the law.