By Mohammed Wajihuddin
February 5, 2016
Zakia Soman, co-founder of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan
Zakia Soman is co-founder of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and part of the campaign fighting the ban on women’s entry to Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah sanctorum. Speaking with Mohammed Wajihuddin, Soman discussed the Haji Ali and Shani Shingnapur agitations, a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) – and intolerance in India:
Is BMMA showing solidarity with women barred from Shani Shingnapur temple?
Well, we’ve been opposing the ban introduced in 2012 on women’s entry to Haji Ali Mazaar – we believe in equality of all human beings, irrespective of gender, caste, race and religion. We are opposed to women being excluded from anywhere – we totally support the women who’ve demanded entry into the Chabutra at Shani Shingnapur temple.
Their struggle has so much resonance with Muslim women’s struggle.
It’s a patriarchal imposition to keep women out of religious places. The Quran gave equal rights to women 1,400 years ago – but patriarchal misinterpretations by male clergy denied women their rights.
Similarly, Hindu women have been kept out of places like the Shani temple under different pretexts. Patriarchal forces appointed themselves custodians of religion – they have done disservice to women and society.
Can a Uniform Civil Code help Muslim women get equal rights?
Leaders like Nehru and Ambedkar actually were concerned about gender justice. They feared patriarchal male custodians in all communities would not allow gender justice.
They thought a UCC could help – but at that time, it was blocked, thanks to opposition from Sadhus and Mahants. Reforms in Hindu law and various legislations like the Hindu Marriage Act paved the way for justice. The Christian minority also made reforms within their religious framework.
Unfortunately, a section of the orthodox Muslim clergy stonewalled any effort towards reform in Muslim personal law.
A Muslim woman can get justice only if Muslim personal law is reformed based on the Quranic framework. A comprehensive codified Muslim personal law, dealing with age of marriage, divorce, polygamy, custody of children and inheritance, is the way forward.
But BMMA tried to codify Muslim family law – mainstream Muslim organisations remain unimpressed.
Our draft Muslim family law is appreciated by many quarters – lawyers, legal researchers and most importantly, women themselves.
In 2014, we received 245 cases of grievances from women in different cities – 90% were resolved based on the draft law.
Legal cells and women’s cells across states are taking up cases of Muslim women based on our draft. The Law Commission of India and the National Legal Services Authority have lent support to our efforts. For the first time since 1947, Indian Muslim women have a draft law which protects their rights in marriage and divorce – within the Quranic framework. Eventually, a day will come when this draft will reach Parliament.
Currently, how do you see India’s religious intolerance debate?
Well, larger Indian society is tolerant – but there is a growing menace of rightwing, regressive, divisive voices that want to divide the country along religious lines. They make incendiary statements and incite violent behaviour – we’ve seen this over beef and Ghulam Ali’s music.