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Muslim women say personal law board just another NGO &not guardian of community

A VIRTUAL civil war erupted within the country's biggest religious minority group after the All India Muslim Personal Law Board ( AIMPLB) decided on Thursday to boycott a stakeholder engagement questionnaire circulated by the union law commission on a common code for issues such as marriage, divorce and property rights.

While the AIMPLB accused the law panel of behaving like an agent of the Narendra Modi government and said the proposed Uniform Civil Code is a threat to the country's pluralism and diversity, Muslim female activists said the board cannot speak for the entire community.

The Constitution allows Muslims to regulate matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance through their own civil code, though the community itself has been clamouring for reforms and a ban on oppressive customs.

" People of different cultures stay in this country. If a uniform civil code is implemented, attempts will be made to paint all in one colour, which is not in the interest of the country," said Jamiat- Ulema- e- Hind president Maulana Arshad Madani.

The development comes on the heels of the Supreme Court last year initiating a historic exercise to examine if controversial practices such as instant divorce and polygamy allowed by Islamic personal law results in gender discrimination. Since then a number of Muslim women have come forward to challenge the legitimacy of the practices. "First of all AIMPLB is not a body which represents the entire community," said Zakia Soman, co-founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. "They are just an NGO, so we must give it only that much importance and not more than that. It is a welcome step taken by the Law Commission of India. It is not that the law panel is only talking about triple talaq or polygamy. They are talking about rights of women. Patriarchal forces that run the board do not want to give women their rights." Three decades ago, the apex court ruled against the marital code for Muslims in a landmark judgement when it said a Muslim woman, Shah Bano, was entitled to alimony in a divorce case. But Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, faced with mounting anger from Muslim groups, used parliamentary procedures to set aside the verdict. "AIMPLB is only a registered society and what its members say cannot be taken as a final word," said Farah Faiz, president of the Rashtrawadi Muslim Mahila Sangh and one of the petitioners in the SC seeking a ban on the "discriminatory practices of triple talaq and polygamy. "They have self-drafted aims and objectives. They have no right to decide on the personal laws of the community. They are not the guardians of the Muslims in this country." Members of the BJP and hardline Hindu groups have frequently criticised the provision for separate laws for Muslims and have been pushing for a common code for all Indians. "We need to see the issue in totality, said BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli. "The constitutional scheme talks about the desirability of Uniform Civil Code. No one has the right to say they do not want to see the implementation of what the Constitution demands...India is a democracy. Can even a discussion not take place?" A bench headed by the Chief Justice of India is examining the effects of triple talaq and polygamy on the fundamental rights of Muslim women and inspecting if these practices are ending up in gender discrimination. Ever since the court began the exercise, several Muslim women's organisations have jumped on the bandwagon to attack the practices. Slamming the affidavit filed by the AIMPLB which stated that the SC cannot interfere with the personal laws of religions, Faiz said, "The Supreme Court is the actual guardian of the constitution. If they cannot interfere when gross violation of laws and individual rights is happening in the society, who can? The sharia courts and qazis supported by the AIMPLB do not allow women to enforce their rights. The board is also trying to give a religious colour to the debate on triple talaq by terming it a practice prescribed by the Quran." Article 44 of the Constitution says implementation of the Uniform Civil Code is the duty of the state. At present there are different laws governing these aspects for different communities in India. Laws governing inheritance or divorce among Hindus are different from those pertaining to Muslims or Christians and so on. The demand for a uniform civil code essentially means unifying all these personal laws to have one set of secular laws dealing with these aspects that will apply to all citizens of India irrespective of the community they belong to. The BJP had promised the Uniform Civil Code in its poll manifesto ahead of the 2014 general elections. The Modi government has already told the SC that there is no reason Muslim women in India should be denied their constitutional rights when "Muslim countries where Islam is the state religion have undergone extensive reform" in this sphere. "Secularism being a hallmark of Indian democracy, no part of its citizenry ought to be denied access to fundamental rights, much less can any section of a secular society be worse off than its counterparts in theocratic countries, many of which have undergone reform," said the government's affidavit.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Oct 14, 2016
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