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Indian Muslim Women, Politics of Muslim Personal

The issue of justice and progressive laws for Muslim women is largely dependent upon the state of Hindu- Muslim relations and upon the status of the overall development of the community. A uniform civil code implies retaining the customary diversity of all communities by providing a uniform base of constitutional values. With this in mind this article discusses the politics around the Muslim Personal Law in India, and explores what needs to be the real agenda for social scientists and activists. Progressive movements must align their actions to provide reforms in laws that will be closer to the spirit of constitutional values. Unless women and progressive organisations succeed in creating a mass movement for change, reforms in personal laws will remain a distant dream.


Indian Muslim Women, Politics of Muslim Personal Law and Struggle for Life with Dignity and Justice

Razia Patel

The issue of justice and progressive laws for Muslim women is largely dependent upon the state of Hindu-Muslim relations and upon the status of the overall development of the community. A uniform civil code implies retaining the customary diversity of all communities by providing a uniform base of constitutional values. With this in mind this article discusses the politics around the Muslim Personal Law in India, and explores what needs to be the real agenda for social scientists and activists. Progressive movements must align their actions to provide reforms in laws that will be closer to the spirit of constitutional values. Unless women and progressive organisations succeed in creating a mass movement for change, reforms in personal laws will remain a distant dream.

This article draws in part on research that was made possible by the Times of India Fellowship in 1996.

Razia Patel ( heads the minority education cell at the Indian Institute of Education, Pune.

uring the last two decades India has passed through major turmoil. Normal civic life is becoming more and more unsafe due to communal riots, violence, bomb blasts, and politics is turning out to be more and more communal. The chief reason for this is Hindu-Muslim relations in the country, and unless we go to the root cause of the divide, analyse objectively and apply a process of healing, no long-term solution may be in sight.

1 Introduction

Personal laws in India, and especially Muslim personal law has been a major political and controversial issue, and has been extensively debated. Since independence it has been a rallying point for not only Muslim organisations, but also for Hindu right wing politics. After the 1986 Shah Bano case, and the enactment of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act thereafter, the debate has assumed a central position, and majority identity politics has gained mileage, evident in the weakening of centrist secular parties like the Congress.

Apart from national political parties, women’s organisations and movements in India are also debating their stand on issues like the uniform civil code (UCC) – the Directive Principle of State Policy laid down by the Constitution should be the basis of detailed strategy on various personal laws in the country.

This essay discusses the politics around the Muslim personal law in India, and explores what needs to be the real agenda for social scientists and activists.

2 Muslim Personal Law: A Brief Background

Muslim Personal Law (MPL) in India has sources from Islamic laws and religion. For a proper appreciation of the development in these laws, a brief reference to the conditions prevailing in pre-Islamic Arabia is necessary. During Prophet Muhammad’s time, there were numerous tribes, unstable local governments, and traditional tribal rules. At Medina, Prophet Muhammad assumed the functions of legislator, administrative general and judge. And many Suras (chapters of the Quran) containing rules about fasting, prayers, social laws covering marriages, divorce, etc, belong to the Medinese period. Therefore, on many issues the solutions are found in the revelations of the Holy Quran, which became the most important source of law.

Thus Islamic Law was introduced by Prophet Muhammad through the Holy Quran and under his own directions during his lifetime. The overall spirit of the law was embodied in reforms in the then existing practices, such as introduction of females as heirs, prohibition of usury and abolition of infanticide especially

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of baby girls. The background and spirit that lies behind the introduction of the MPL should always be kept in mind while interpreting any portion of the law.

2.1 Sources of Muslim Law

The main sources of Mohammedan law in India (Khan 1992: 13-15) are:

  • (i) Holy Quran: The Medinese Suras which form one-third of the contents of the Holy Quran relate to the period of victory and power and are rich in legislative materials. They deal with the institutions of public prayers, prohibition of wine, and matters related to marriage, divorce, adultery, inheritance, etc. Although the Quran is not in the form of any definite code, either in form or in substance, it is the primary and final authority in all matters with which it deals.
  • (ii) Ahadis and Sunnas: Stories of occurrences concerning the Prophet given by eyewitnesses are known as Ahadis. Sunna is the practice of the Prophet. In the absence of any direct revelations from the Quran, problems had to be decided by supplementing the provisions of the Quran by facts from the life of the Prophet and from his sayings.
  • (iii) Ijma: The third source is Ijma. The Quran and the traditions continued to have legislative effect but with the passage of time, it became necessary to deal with numerous problems which could not be decided with reference only to the Quran. For this purpose the jurists evolved the principles of “Ijma”. By this they meant the general concord among the jurists of a particular age on any question. Issues that were not mentioned in the Holy Quran and Ahadis were decided by consensus of opinion among the jurists.

    (iv) The Qiyas: Muslim jurists could not, however, naturally dispose of all the problems by these three processes. At such times they resorted to their own discretion and reasoning. The use of reason for exercise of independent judgment subject to the dictates of the Quran and the guidance of tradition had the approval of the Prophet himself. It is reported that the Prophet sent Mu’adh, one of his companions, as governor of a province and also appointed him as the dispenser of justice. No trained lawyers existed at that time and the Prophet received the following answers to the questions he posed:

    “According to what shalt thou judge?” “According to the Scriptures of God”, said Mu’adh “And if thou findest nought therein?” “According to the traditions of the Prophet of God” “And if thou findest nought therein?” “Then I shall interpret with my reason”

    And thereupon the Prophet said:

    Praise be to God who has favoured the messenger of His Prophet with what the Prophet is willing to approve (Fayzee 1971: 8).

    While the world of Islam grew and the Prophet or his companions could no longer directly help the cadis they were therefore constrained to exercise their own powers of reasoning and

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    deduction (literally, qiyas) and thus the principles of law grew and developed into a regular system (ibid: 8).

    2.2 Diversity in Muslim Law

    Muslims are often wrongly perceived as a homogeneous block of people with uniform religious laws governing them. However, it is very often ignored that Muslims worldwide have many diffe rent practices, and have a large number of variations in laws governing them within different Islamic countries and regions. Winsinck’s (1927) Handbook of Mohammedan Traditions contains classical collections of seven authoritative books on Muslim law. Two main sects are well-known – the shias (or s hiites) and the sunnis.

    The shiites have four books of law: (i) the Kafi – a collection compiled by Muhammad Ya‘qub Kulayni, (ii) Man la Yahduruhu’lfaqih by Ibn Bawayhi, (iii) the Istibsar, and (iv) Tahdhib al-ahkam by Shaikh Tusi (Fayzee 1971: 8).

    In the course of time four schools of Sunnite law came into existence in Arabia proper, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’I and Hanbali. Further to the east, another school, based upon the teaching of Imam Ja’far al Sadiq arose and was known as the Ithna ‘Ashariyya…The Hanafi School is followed by majority Muslims in central Asia, Turkey, Egypt and India. The Maliki was adopted in north Africa. The school founded by Imam Shafi’I was followed in Egypt and Sudan, south India and south-east Asia. The followers of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal were confirmed to centre of Arabia, the Ithna ‘Ashari school spread over Iraq and Persia, and later infiltrated in India. A smaller school, founded by the Fatimid Caliphs in Egypt, was driven off from there, took refuge in the Yemen, and is now found preserved by Bohoras in western India (ibid: 8-9).

    Islamic jurisprudence then is better described as an ethical code rather than a uniform legal system. Various countries have different influences, and have modified these laws in their own way. All Islamic countries also do not have uniform legal systems albeit claiming to be Islamic, and the local traditions and influences have been incorporated resulting in diversity.

    3 Muslim Personal Law in India

    Muslim personal law in India is not a divine book. It is rather a man-made law.

    The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act or Act XXVI of 1937 was enacted by the British government in India, as a part of the Government of India Act, 1935. After independence, the Constitution of India has maintained the law as it existed at the time of its introduction. Under the Constitution, Muslim law has been recognised only in respect of marriage and divorce, infants and adoption of minors, intestacy of wills, successions, joint family and partitions. Shariat or Muslim law in India does not apply to crimes.

    The point to be noted here is that the MPL around which postindependence Muslim identity politics is centred, is actually a creation of colonial British rule. MPL was applied to Muslims in British India as a matter of policy, and not as a matter of religion (Fayzee 1971: 12).

    There are many elements included in this personal law, which are not based on the shariat, and which are applied as a matter of “justice, equity and good conscience” and yet others were abolished – for instance, the judge need not necessarily be a Muslim;


    apostasy and adultery are not punishable by death; the giving and taking of interest by a Muslim is not illegal; the hand of a thief is not cut off; Muslims and non-Muslims can lawfully marry without changing their religion and their children are legitimate and have rights of inheritance under the Special Marriages Act, 1954; the existing nikah between two Muslims can be turned into a civil marriage by registration under the Special Marria ges Act, 1954.

    This proves that MPL in this country is not “non-negotiable”, and progressive reforms can be demanded and be made from time to time. Moreover, there have actually been some changes made post-independence. On 26 January 1950, the Indian Constitution gave legal sanction to the existing MPL and simultaneously also put forth the idea of the UCC in Article 44 of the Directive Principles of State Policy. This has always remained a subject of hot debate since then. In 1954, the government of India passed the Special Marriages Act, which actually provided people a choice of coming out of personal laws. There was a big controversy over the UCC in 1967, when the then Jan Sangh tried to use the code as a Muslim bashing tool, and many Muslim organisations opposed the same. In 1972, they formed a non-government body called Muslim Personal Law Board of India (MPLB) with the purpose of ensuring protection of the MPL. Since then the MPLB has been a major rallying point for conservative Muslims, while many progressive Muslims have questioned its legitimacy in r epresenting the overall Muslim population in India.

    The major change in MPL happened after the infamous Shah Bano case, which led to the enactment of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. This act actually deprived Muslim women of the right of maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and thereafter this created a big upheaval in Indian politics. It created an impression that keeping an eye on the Muslim vote bank, the then Rajiv Gandhi government allowed itself to get influenced and pressurised by the Muslim leadership. Many Muslim women’s organisations, other women’s organisations, and progressive organisations protested, but could not stop it. This has given strength to Hindu fundamentalist propaganda against secular politics in this country, and has also brought MPL back to the centre stage of politics.

    3.1 Colonial Roots: Politics of Muslim Personal Law

    In an interesting analysis, Anderson (1996) has detailed the pro cess of the making of MPL in India as a British effort to facilitate achievement of two broad goals: to extract economic surplus in the form of revenue from the agrarian economy, and second, to maintain effective political control with minimal military involve ment. They followed a path of least resistance and exercised power by adapting the contours of pre-colonial political s ystem, including law.

    Dividing all indigenous legal arrangements into two categories

    – Hindu and Muslim – was inadequate to contain the diversity of legal life in the subcontinent both within the Muslim community and between Hindus and Muslims. Within the Muslim community, for instance, unified Muslim personal law ignores all differences between Shia, Sunni, Ahmadi, Wahabi sects, and also igno res the fact that certain groups like Khojas, Memons and Mapillas are customarily governed by personal laws of Hindu inspiration (ibid: 21). In their effort to accommodate and deal with the diversity of social

    46 groups, courts treated the Quran as a binding code of law (ibid: 11). This creation of “Mohammedan law” ignored customary laws, regional variations and inaccuracies in translation (ibid: 14).

    Colonial legal interpretations, while not strictly wrong, “were arrested frozen forms of representation. They often had more to do with a limited kind of textual accuracy than a genuine appreciation of the norms by which people lived” (ibid: 19).

    Thus the detailed analysis by Anderson (1996) indicates that the MPL in India has been formed by British colonial political considerations, and it was actually not very much in line with actual practices being followed by the people at the grassroots level.

    Thus MPL in India has its roots in colonial politics. The Muslims in India were already observing local customary laws in a diversified manner, according to their regional practices, or according to their individual sects, but the then British administrators in a quest to have a uniform legal procedure which would be common to a group of sects with common identity as “Muslims”, and which would be useful for solving land entitlements issues, wealth successions, etc, under a common legal system, tried to translate a few important religious texts into English, and forged the laws somewhat based on these holy texts. This “scriptural” approach to making laws has had a long-term adverse impact on Muslim identity politics – the fundamentalist groups rallied around this new identity; the Deoband movement also used the shariat laws as a tool to organise Muslims; and later this law has become a base for laws in Pakistan and Bangladesh. To oppose any reforms in these laws, the fundamentalist political Muslim groups like the Muslim League and others called these as “shariat-based” and hence “divine”, and fanned the passions of common Muslim masses to gain support against any changes.

    4 Changes in Muslim Personal Law

    The present form of MPL in India has some provisions, which are not seen as in accordance with the values of gender equality and are constantly opposed by many groups and individuals. The provisions regarding oral divorce, polygamy and maintenance after divorce are found to be used frequently by Muslim men. As it is a violation of women’s human rights this is opposed mainly by secular and women’s rights activists. The Hindu chauvinists portray this as a special concession to Muslims and are opposing these from this stand point.

    There are two major views on personal laws: one advocates no separate personal laws for Muslims, and calls for immediate i mplementation of UCC as per Article 44 of the Constitution; a nother view advocates retaining separate laws, but making some r eforms which address the above lacunae. There is also a third view, which denies that there are any unjust provisions at all, and a proper implementation of religious scriptures will e nsure justice to women.

    The first kind of opinion is generated on two grounds: hardcore secularists profess that in a secular state, the laws must be separated from religion (Sathe 1986: 5). Clarifying the secular point of view, Sathe says, “The debate on UCC must be freed from such communal overtones. A UCC is desired not in order to satisfy Hindu Chauvinism or to humiliate the non-Hindus. It is desired as a rational, humanistic and just law for human affairs” (ibid: 5).

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    The thrust of the UCC, in his view is to secularise, modernise and reorganise the law so that it subserves the constitutional ideals of liberty, justice and equality (ibid: 7).

    The Indian Secular Society at Pune has worked out a detailed draft

    – the first of its kind – for a UCC and presented it at a conference held at Pune on 27 September 1986. Organisations like the Muslim Satyashodhak had taken up this issue during late 1960s.

    The people supporting UCC from a secular point of view have good intentions no doubt, but since independence, the implementation of Article 44 has remained as just an ideal that is not practical. The main reason is the politics of personal laws from colonial times which is deep rooted in Indian polity now, compounded by the lack of political will today. Implementation of UCC from a secular perspective seems to be an impossible task now.

    There is another group of supporters for UCC, which has made the task more difficult – and that is the Hindu chauvinists. The Sangh parivar – which includes all shades of Hindu nationalists have always used MPL as a Muslim bashing tool, and in turn Muslim fundamentalists gather the community around MPL in a fear driven process to protect it from these forces. Thus, the communal identity politics is complimentary for each others growth, but at the cost of the fundamental rights of Muslim women.

    Against this background, the third group favouring reforms within personal laws seems to be more practical and acceptable to many Muslim reformists as well as women’s organisations. Attempts to organise a voice for the reform of MPL have been done time and again since independence. Various organisations, individuals and women’s organisations have initiated debates on this. Noted scholars like A A A Fayzee, Satyranjan Sathe, Asghar Ali Engineer, and others have also put up their detailed viewpoints and drafts for changes in personal laws.

    However, there are some issues at stake: Should we be discussing the fine points of Quranic or Hindu sacred texts, or should we be discussing equity and gender justice today while deciding about an agenda of reforms? (Ranjan 2005). The reformists are divided on this question. The women’s organisations are also divided on these issues.

    Indira Jaising has argued persuasively that “[i]n reality, whether we want it or not, there is a common civil code that operates for all women. All family codes – be they Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Parsi – discriminate against women…Women have no rights under family laws. This is common code of discrimination and disinheritance” (Aawaz-e-Niswan 1999:21). Arguing that pluralistic legal systems must be based on ideas of non-negotiability of equal rights for women, she observes that clarity on which issues are personal and which fall within civil law is essential.

    The reformists adopt a more strategic stance, and try to find solutions within the framework of Islamic laws, by making efforts of interpreting the religious scriptures in progressive terms. They believe that there are multiple interpretations of Quran, and in their view, “Quran makes clear pronouncement in favour of equal rights for both sexes” (Engineer 2003:1). By this argument, the reasons for patriarchal interpretations so far, are to be found in the patriarchal Arab culture, which mediated the implementation of the Quranic pronouncement (ibid: 2). Thus, this line of argument suggests that a progressive interpretation is possible,

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    and necessary too, and should be used for creating public support within the community in favour of reforms. On these lines, some organisations have suggested measures like nikahnama, which is voluntary declaration by husband and wife of the progressive rights of the wife.

    While this can be a moderate way of initiating reforms, it has huge limitations. Religion is believed to have a divine sanction, and its interpretations by scholars and academicians are not generally accepted by people, in the manner in which interpretation by ulemas or religious authorities are. The ulemas always tend to issue religious dictates in favour of traditionally patriarchal customs and have religious sanction. If the activists also put forth religious sanction as the basis for their logic, the exercise becomes a competition with ulemas, and it is very hard to beat them.

    The various nikahnamas, although an honest effort to find immediate relief to women, fail practically due to the fact that they do not have legal sanction. No legal protection to Muslim women is possible unless we build firm legal reforms in the existing Muslim Marriages Act through constitutional amendments (Patel 2005). From this point of view, what we need is actual legal reforms, and not voluntary nikahnamas, which are giving undue legitimacy to unauthentic bodies such as the Jamaat and other local bodies.

    It is relevant to take a close look at the model nikahnamas proposed recently by the MPLB, which made an appeal to Muslims to refrain “as far as possible” from triple talaq in one sitting, but it does not call for a ban on the practice. Likewise the nikahnama also allows for the polygamous marriages, portrays husband as the main decision-maker, and the wife is seen as dependent on and subordinate to him. The new model also places the initiative for divorce in the hands of the husband. As per this nikahnama, the wife cannot go to the court of law against talaq. This nikahnama also talks about darul kaza meaning the shariat court. It says that in case of any dispute, the parties should go to the shariat court and not to a court of law. Thus the intention of this nikahnama is to restrain Muslim women from going to the court, and thereby not recognising official judicial systems. Clearly such nikahnamas are in no way a major step ahead in reforms.

    There are other nikahnamas proposed by other nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and organisations which vary in progressiveness of the contents, but still they do not have any locus standi from the legal point of view, and hence cannot replace the need for radical reforms in personal laws. During the 1970s A A A Fayzee has also very clearly spelt out a draft outlining proposed reforms, but it has not been supported by any mass movement so far, nor has it been incorporated in law (Fayzee 1971: 24). Thus, there is considerable debate on reforms within the Muslim community now, which is a good sign, but clarity is yet to be evolved especially on the kind of reforms that can be initiated in personal laws (Ranjan: 2005).

    5 Status and Voice of Muslim Women

    While we see clear violation of the rights of women by some provisions such as oral divorce, polygamy and the right to maintenance, the laws need to be reformed to address these issues. After a nationwide survey in 1996, I found that Muslim women themselves wanted this change in laws.


    Of the families surveyed 7% had polygamy in practice; 30% families had one or more divorced women showing a clear evidence of oral talaq; the period of marriage after which talaq was pronounced ranged from less than one year to four-five years; and the reasons mentioned by these women were dowry (44%), anger (32%), second wife (16%), no son/daughter (4%). Divorced women who had to leave home immediately was 92% of the respondents. All of them said they need proper maintenance. The mehr – which is an amount the husband is supposed to return after talaq – was less than Rs 500 in 76% of the cases (Patel 1994).

    Similar surveys have been done by other researchers and organisations and the outcome confirms the plight of women under the present form of MPL. Many women’s organisations working amongst Muslim women have demanded reforms in MPL based on gender just values.1 After 1975, many Muslim women’s organisations and NGOs have also come up and are working on these issues.

    Many Muslim women have approached courts challenging the unjust provisions of MPL in their matters. There are some landmark cases by individual Muslim women challenging the unjust provisions. In 1983, Shehnaz Shaikh, challenged the validity of MPL in the Supreme Court with respect to oral divorce. She argued that as per Articles 13, 14, 15 of the Constitution, every Indian citizen is granted equality before law, and there can be no discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, or sex, and that provisions in MPL are against these articles. However, this petition has still not been heard by the Supreme Court. In 1988 Akhtar Sayyed from Pune challenged the MPL on the issue of permission for adoption. In 1993, Nafisa Hussain challenged the constitutional validity of the provision of oral divorce in MPL. Rahimatbi Pathan and Jaitunbi Pathan also challenged oral divorce and maintenance in 1999 and 2002 at Aurangabad and Mumbai high courts, and the court judgments were in their favour. Although some judgments even after the Act of 1986 are in favour of Muslim women, the judgments are dependent upon the conscience of individual judges. The desired situation should be that the laws must favour Muslim women in clear and uncertain terms.

    Sometimes an argument is made that the community itself must demand the changes, and these can then be effected. However, it is overlooked that Muslim women individually and in organisations have been raising their voice, and are struggling hard to get justice. In this struggle, they expect the state and the judiciary to ensure justice, and do not want solutions from Jamaat or bodies like the MPLB.

    It is against this background that one needs to reflect upon what should be the basis of making laws. Ideally it should be the principle of justice, equality and human rights and not the muscle power of any community. The government should not hide behind the logic of waiting for demands of the community to initiate legal reform. Had that been the case for removing untouchability, the law would not have passed till now. Also there were large gatherings and protest marches supporting sati

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    in Rajasthan in 1986. In spite of this the ban on sati was not revoked. There can be no negotiation on enforcing constitutional principles and values. There is also the important question of compliance with international legal standards, for instance provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to which India is a signatory.

    6 Challenges Ahead

    There are clearly three streams of people who work in the social arena amongst the community. One, those who believe in the revival of the pure form of religion apply everything in letter and spirit and spread the message as “only true philosophy” towards emancipation. This group is clearly with the present status quo.

    Two, those who believe in the necessity for some changes but having taken a path of least resistance, being largely dependent on those struggling for a progressive interpretation of texts, sometimes make compromises with limited achievements.

    Three, those who owe allegiance to fundamental human values and gender sensitivity and demand expansion of space and freedom for women and the oppressed, create pressure on the “interpretationists” to get aligned with these universal values.

    The second and third group can work complementary to each other to create a pressure group on policymakers, and this divide should not be seen as a weakness but strength.

    Every religious society and community worldwide has inner contradictions and struggles between people of different opinions, and Muslims although perceived by many as a homogeneous community are not an exception to the rule of diversity. There has always been a synthesis of various opinions worldwide, and accordingly the scenarios are to be seen in the Indian context as well. Hence we see different shades of organisational philosophies ranging between the above positions. We need to, very clearly, make a choice in the Indian context, which is not simple, because of the fact that Islam is a religion that has spread worldwide, and there are global influences working as well.

    After the 1986 Shah Bano case, the 1992 Babri episode and G ujarat riots in 2002, the Muslim community started experiencing a huge sense of insecurity, and this has affected the progressive agenda of women’s groups and Muslim organisations. After Gujarat, the priorities of community and Muslim women changed, from laws to survival. In my survey in 2003, one of the women asked “kanoon ka hak to chahiye magar samaaj nahi bachega to kya karenge kanoon lekar?” (We want to have laws, but if the community will not survive what will we do with the laws?). The current international scenario has created suspicion and an environment of alienation of Muslims, and the local political parties are also taking advantage of the same in creating anti-Muslim sentiments. This has also created a sense of insecurity amongst the Muslim masses, and these insecure masses are easy for the fundamentalists to manipulate. Thus, the issue of justice and progressive laws for Muslim women is largely dependent upon the state of Hindu-Muslim relations and upon the status of the overall development of the community. Hence any movement aiming at reforming laws has to take into consideration the above two

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    factors, and thus need to be part of the movement for communal harmony and developmental issues.

    We are a secular and democratic state, with a written Constitution having values enshrined quoted from the Preamble such as “Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all, Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation” which guides all our laws and actions. We also have Article 44 of the Constitution which states that “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”. The word used is “uniform civil code” and not “common civil code” as being popularly quoted, and the difference in implied meaning should not be ignored. The word uniform, I would argue, implies retaining the diversity in detail but ensuring uniformity in base values. All communities have their own customary diversities, which should be retained, but we need to provide a uniform base of constitutional values – this is the most plausible interpretation of this clause.

    Progressive movements must align their actions to provide reforms in laws to go nearer to the spirit of constitutional values. When, in the course of my survey, I asked all the respondent Muslim women who they seek justice from, the answer was unanimous – from court of law, and not the Jamaat. This is what the Muslim women want. The movements must build pressure on elected governments to make progressive laws without waiting any more for a “demand from the community”, as the women are already demanding this, and the government is supposed to make laws in conformity with constitutional values.

    After a widespread educational revolution all across the country, and long struggles of the organisations and individuals, many Muslim women and individuals are coming out vocally for changes, which is creating pressure to some extent, but the truth is that still there is no unified aandolan or mass movement clearly representing the voices. Unless women and progressive organisations succeed in creating such a force, reforms in personal laws will remain a distant but not an impossible dream.


    1 Organisations like Awaz-e-Niswan (Mumbai), Saheli (Delhi), Majlis (Mumbai), Janwadi Mahila Sabha, Forum against Oppression of Women (Mumbai), Working Group on Women’s Rights (Delhi), Janamukti Sangharsh Vahini (Mumbai), Rachan Vikas (Pune) and others have put forth their views on the same through various forums.


    Anderson, Michael R (1996): “Islamic Law and the Colonial Encounter in British India”, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), London, Occasional paper No 7, June.

    Awaz-e-Niswan (1999): Muslim Personal Law and Women – A Report of the N ational Conference (Bombay: Awaaz-e-Niswan).

    Engineer, Asghar Ali (2003): “Muslim Women on the Move”, Secular Perspective, Vol 6(13), 1-15 July, pp 1-2.

    Fayzee, Asaf A A (1971): The Reform of Muslim Personal Law in India (Pune: Indian Secular Society).

    Khan, B Y (1992): Muslim Kayada (Ahmadnagar: Justice Publications).

    Patel, Razia (2005): “Ya Nikahnamyachya Nimittane” (Regarding this Nikahnaama), Milun Saryajani, July.

    Ranjan, Nalini (2005): “Personal Laws and Public Memory”, Economic Political Weekly, June.

    Sathe (1986): Indian Secular Society: Uniform Civil Code – Part I – The Indian Marriage and Matrimonial Remedies Act 1986 (Draft Proposal) (Pune: Indian Secular Society ILS Law College).

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