A Uniform Civil Code will help Muslim women in India fight injustices

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  government has proposed a Uniform Civil Code for India where all citizens  would have the same law apply to their economic, social  and religious rights. If such a law were to be enacted, it would ensure that injustices done to Muslim women in India were wiped out in  one stroke.

N S Venkataraman Jul 01, 2023
Muslim women in India (Photo: Wikipedia)

Any country or society can claim status as a civilized one only if  the men and women are treated equally and on par as per  the law of the land.  Of course, there can be instances where  some sections of the people harass women  in one form or the other, whatever may be the law of the land. In such a condition, those who harass women would  be considered as punishable law breakers in countries where the laws do not permit status disparity and gender discrimination between men and women.

Unfortunately, there are  some countries in the world where Muslim women are looked upon as inferior to men and their personal freedom and social movement are severely restricted by the law of the land.  The  restrictions are in various forms and methods  such as dress code, praying in mosques along with men, denial of driving licence, and even freedom of  movement in some  places.

In countries like Iran and Afghanistan, the conditions faced by  Muslim women are extremely  challenging bordering on cruelty.  In some Islamic countries, it may be less severe but nevertheless  social conditions and practices are not fair to women.  Even in a secular country like India,  large sections of Muslim  women suffer from several restrictions and discriminatory laws.

Muslim women have been silently bearing the brunt of suffering,   fearing the fundamentalist clergy and oppressive menfolk from their religion..  While  some women in Afghanistan and Iran protested recently and demanded their due rights and privileges, the protest movements were brutally suppressed  by the governments.  However,  other countries and citizens mostly  watched the situation in Afghanistan and Iran  from the gallery and restricted their reactions to mere lip sympathy. In other words, Muslim women in Iran, Afghanistan and some other countries  remain isolated in their struggle  for freedom and liberty.

Those who want Muslim women’s freedom to be   restricted and suppressed are the socially conservative clergy  and  their anatical religious followers.   They seem to view women only as child-bearing machines created by God to satisfy the needs of men and they expect women to hide themselves  from public view in order not to arouse the lust of men other than their husbands. Of course, there are many Muslim men who are unhappy about this  situation but  they  do not  seem to lend their voices in speaking out against this discrimination in any meaningful way.  

Case study of India

India has the third largest Muslim population in the world, with 14.5 per cent of the Indian population of 1.4 billion being Muslims.  Obviously, India also has one of the largest Muslim women populations in the world

There are many laws in India that are against women.  For example, Muslim men can have four wives  at any time,   which  shows lack of concern  and care about the feelings of women as well as indicate the lack of respect for womanhood.    This practice is permitted by law in India due to primacy of Muslim personal law over the nation's laws. 

Until recently the law was that the   Muslim husband can divorce his wife by   simply uttering what is known as 'triple talaq'  and  some men are reported to have said  'triple talaq' even  without seeing the wife face to face.  This practice has been stopped in India   by the Modi government, which has given great relief to Muslim women. However, such practices are still continuing unchecked in Muslim ghettos in parts of India. 

In case of divorce,  a Muslim man does not lose any financial rights, whereas  if a Muslim woman were to  divorce the husband she would forfeit her  financial rights as per interpretation of Muslim personal law. 

 In the case of  any dispute between husband and wife with regard to their children, a Muslim husband can straightaway have custody of the children, if he so desire, but a Muslim woman needs to approach the court  to get permission to  have the custody of her children..

These are only a few examples of the unjust personal laws obnoxious practices in India that are loaded against Muslim women.

Modi government’s proposal 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s  government has proposed a Uniform Civil Code for India where all citizens  would have the same law apply to their economic, social  and religious rights. If such a law were to be enacted, it would ensure that injustices done to Muslim women in India were wiped out in  one stroke.

 However, the proposed Uniform Civil Code has been opposed by the Muslim clergy and several Muslim associations which are largely dominated by conservative Muslim men. It remains to be seen whether the Modi government would be able to implement the much needed Uniform Civil Code in the face of opposition not only from Muslim clergy but also from a few political parties who want to keep the Muslim men in good humour as part of their "vote bank politics".

Plight of Muslim women in India

Poverty level among the Muslim population in India is a matter of concern. A careful analysis of the ground realities would indicate that such conditions are largely due to the suppression of women’s rights and liberty and restriction of  their activities.  The educational level and awareness level of a considerable section of Muslim women are  not on par with other women in Indian society.

In effect, nearly half the Muslim population in India (mostly Muslim women) are not part of economic activity in any meaningful way and their potential and talent remain suppressed.

Muslim women in India need sympathy, support and understanding from all quarters . Today,  even as a Uniform Civil Code is being proposed and would benefit Muslim women enormously, Muslim women remain conspicuous in India by their silence, unable to gather courage  to demand their legitimate rights.

(The writer is a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. Views are personal. He can be contacted at nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com)

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