Wednesday, May 31, 2017

‘Rights of women pertain to economic issues’

Journalist and author Annie Zaidi voices her concerns over triple talaq and the Uniform Civil Code

Annie Zaidi, noted for her works like Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales, Love Stories # 1 to 14, makes it clear that the fight for the abolition of triple talaq has been led by Muslim women, before politicians jumped into the fray. She also tells us that the core issue is economic rights for women. Excerpts from an interview:

Women at the fore
“Triple talaq is NOT an issue raised by the Narendra Modi government. This is an issue that Muslim women’s organisations like Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan (BMMA) in Mumbai have been talking about for decades. It is a pity that the issue has been hijacked by right wing groups, especially by male politicians! After all, the fight was being led from within the community, by Muslim women. They would have prevailed, sooner or later. As early as November 2016, under pressure from within the community, the Muslim Personal Law Board had set up a women’s wing to look at the problem of triple talaq. It is just a matter of time,” says Zaidi.

Economic rights
She also opines that the rights of women are an economic issue across communities. “The real problem is that women are not paid wages if they work alongside their husbands or within the household. So if a marriage collapses, they have no money or house of their own. This is true for Hindu women too. The right to inherit property for Hindu daughters is a recent development. It took many decades of fighting orthodox and conservative elements within Hindu society,” explains Zaidi.

Uniform Civil Code and what it spells
According to her, the problem is not that the Modi government wants Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Says she, “They want Muslim marital laws to be the same as Hindu upper caste/ Brahmin laws. Even the laws governing Hindu marriages are actually not reflective of all traditions. After all, divorce was freely available and common among many tribal communities that broadly fall under the umbrella of ‘Hindu’. The British had to legislate and codify laws only because upper caste Hindu groups did not allow divorce, or widow remarriage, etc. Polygamy and polyandry, both are a part of Indian cultural history.”

Many Hindu families suffer needlessly if one spouse refuses to give a divorce, even if the marriage is effectively finished. Why is this something to aspire towards? “Muslim laws are much more sensible in this regard. If the marriage is over, finish it. Give it some thought, yes. Give it time, yes. But how long can you hold onto a partner against his will?” she asks.

Marriage and divorce are finally personal matters, and cannot be legislated beyond a point. What the state needs to do is to secure individual freedoms and offer greater safety nets for all citizens, regardless of religion or gender. And this includes the right to marry outside one’s religion, and to change one’s religious affiliation when one sees fit. Women need to know that they can walk away from bad marriages.

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