Dalwai's Mandal supports reform in Islamic personal laws

While debate rages over the review of the provision of triple talaq and formulation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal, founded by social reformer-activist Hamid Dalwai, which has been campaigning on these issues for decades, has supported the move to reform and secularise the community’s personal laws.

While demanding that obscurantist practices such as polygamy and halala be eradicated for the sake of gender justice, it has also opposed moves to delink the triple talaq issue from UCC.

The Mandal will launch a campaign to seek support from Muslims for the UCC and a ban on triple talaq, and will also be organising a national convention in November in Pune to assert the rights of Muslim women.

In April 1966, Dalwai, an author and founder of the Indian Secular Society, had organised a morcha of the Muslim women at the receiving end of the oral, one-sided divorce, at the state administrative headquarters. The Mandal was launched in March 1970 for social and religious reforms among Muslims but faced opposition from orthodox sections within the community.

“Instead of going into what the religion says, emphasis must be placed on social justice. Outdated practices must be eradicated,” Professor Shamshuddin Tamboli, president of the body, told DNA.

“Steps must be taken for reform, disregarding any opposition,” he said, adding that “outdated” practices such as oral talaq, polygamy and nikah halala, needed to be done away with.

Pointing to misunderstandings about UCC, Tamboli said it would only deal with civil issues, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, and not with religious practices. “(Personal laws) must be based on the law of the land, gender justice and equality,” he demanded, adding that while 95 per cent of the laws, including criminal laws, were common for all, there was a difference in marriage, divorce, alimony, adoption and inheritance laws.

Many provisions contained in the British-era Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act -1937 were outdated. Moreover, Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Turkey and Bangladesh have already eradicated oral triple talaq.

“This is a secular country. There must be restrictions on religious freedom,” said Tamboli, adding that there were misunderstandings about UCC as no models had been placed before society. He noted that some models could include UCC in force in Goa since the Portuguese era, proposed by academician and legal expert Satyaranjan Sathe, and the Special Marriage Act-1954.

“There is no option but UCC… for national integration and gender justice. The problem will not be solved by merely banning triple talaq,” said Tamboli. “Divorce proceedings should be conducted in court. Women must have an opportunity to present their side,” he stressed, adding that the UCC could also be referred to as a “uniform family law”.

Tamboli also pointed to how other social and religious sections had been demanding their own set of personal laws, which was a divisive move.

“We will co-operate with the law commission,” said Tamboli, referring to the questionnaire put out by the body on the UCC. He said moves by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) to boycott the questionnaire were wrong. “They do not represent all Muslims. It is a self-appointed organisation,” charged Tamboli, adding that Sunnis and Shias had their own sets of personal laws.

The Mandal, which had also stood by Shah Bano in the landmark case over maintenance for the 60-year old divorcee, will collect signatures of men and women from the community and also hold a national-level convention in Pune on November 26, the Constitution Day.

“Women have Constitutional rights regardless of what the religion says,” he said. Memorandums will also be given to President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Tamboli stressed that the right to religious freedom could not supersede the right to equality before law and prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, caste or sex, as contained in the Constitution.

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