Interview: Mariam Dhawale

‘Reform has to come from within’

Print edition : September 15, 2017

Mariam Dhawale.

Interview with Mariam Dhawale of AIDWA.

WOMEN’S organisations have welcomed the judgment banning instant triple talaq. However, their contention is that reform in personal laws has to be a constant process from within the community, with a focus on gender justice. Mariam Dhawale, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), says that the present government is not interested in gender-just laws but will, instead, use the minority judgment to promote its version of a uniform civil code. Excerpts from an interview:

What are your impressions of the “triple talaq” judgment?

The women’s movement, especially AIDWA, has been asking for a ban on instantaneous, arbitrary, oral triple talaq in one sitting, halala and polygamy for several decades now. We deal with such cases so we know the miserable condition of women who are victims of these practices. The practice of triple talaq in one sitting has been banned in many Islamic countries. It could be given on frivolous grounds such as food not being given on time or a woman not bringing certain things from her maternal home as demanded. People started giving talaq through SMS and postcards, Skype, WhatsApp and even over the phone.

The minority judgment of the Chief Justice of India, J.S. Khehar, calls upon the government to legislate on triple talaq and has asked all political parties to cooperate.

It is a minority opinion and a tricky situation too. Our stand is that reform has to come from within. There are secular laws and all women need to take recourse to them. Muslim women have welcomed the judgment, but the way it is being glorified, it appears as if this is liberation for all Muslim women.

The government is trying to take credit for this, claiming that the judgment is the result of its efforts.

On the one hand, we have Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh [RSS] leaders openly saying that working women are characterless or that women should stay at home. This judgment was definitely not the result of a struggle by the RSS. In Uttar Pradesh, women still do not have rights to agricultural land despite there being a Central law. The States are supposed to legislate, but it has not been the case in several States, including BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh. The BJP-ruled Haryana government recently equated “pride in the veil” as a matter of Haryanvi identity. Today, women are challenging these identities and yet these ideas are promoted by some political parties and the governments led by them. Why doesn’t the government, which has a comfortable majority in Parliament, pass the Women’s Reservation Bill?

There are demands for a uniform civil code now.

There is a grave danger of the BJP misusing the suggestion given to it by the judgment to legislate on triple talaq to push for a uniform civil code. The underlying principle is equality, not uniformity. I fear that the minority judgment of the CJI will be used by the BJP to target the Muslim community.

Many secular organisations and Muslim groups too had been demanding abolition of arbitrary triple talaq. When the Shah Bano controversy was raging in the late 1980s and the Congress government overturned the court’s verdict for maintenance, the BJP was silent on the issue. This government has a communal agenda. It can use mutton, cow, love jehad, anything to attack the minorities. It has no right to claim any credit for the ban. The women’s movement and women’s organisations have been asking for changes in laws.

Soon after the verdict, a woman was divorced by her husband in Uttar Pradesh using the triple talaq mode. Will this be valid? It is the local mosque that takes the decision in such cases. Yet, women’s organisations have fought consistently for the rights of Muslim women. The Supreme Court judgment, in that sense, is the culmination of all those struggles. In fact, one should question the idea that Muslim women have been liberated. Talaq is not the only issue. The majority of Muslim women are poor. Does the government address the economic and social backwardness of the community?

Can law alone address these issues? There have been demands to dilute laws framed to protect women.

Laws need to be constantly strengthened. In spite of amendments to the laws dealing with rape as recommended by the Justice Verma Committee, violence against women, especially minors, has gone up. And amid all this, there is a demand to weaken laws protecting women. There is a petition in the Supreme Court that has demanded changes in the definition of rape.