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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Muslim women challenge patriarchal marriage code

Daring the ulemas (clerics) and orthodox Muslims, the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board in its Shariat Nikahnama released on March 16, has come up with a host of measures that ensures that Muslim women get their right.

Not only does it recognise the right of women to seek divorce (khula) and separation, it ensures financial settlement with an eye to the welfare of women and their children, advises registration of marriages and forbids forceful marriages.

The new code also rejects talaq through SMS, e-mail, phone and video conferencing. Talaq on provocation will not be considered either.

According to it, for talaq to be valid, the period should be spread over three months to give a couple ample time to reconsider the issue.

“We are not scared of the mullah, but the Allah,” said Shaista Amber, chairperson of the AIMWPLB. “The mullahs will never come to the rescue of destitute women. Why should the Muslim women be scared to seek khula when this right has been provided to her by the Allah?”

The new nikahnama has a 17-point Hidayatnama (guidelines for marriage under the Shariat law for bride and groom) and an 8-point section on the process of talaq. The hidayatnama prominently declares that any forceful nikah is not acceptable. Forceful dowry has also been forbidden.

Amber said the new Shariat Nikahnama is very different from the model nikahnama of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).

“The model nikahnama had not taken care of the women's rights as per the Koran. The new nikahnama maintains the equilibrium,” she said.

While the model nikahnama is in Urdu, Shariat Nikahnama is available both in Hindi and Urdu so it reaches more people.

“A woman has full authority to seek khula under Shariat law, from her husband if the husband harasses her and her children,” said Amber.

A woman must approach the Darul Kaza (a Shariat court) for seeking divorce under khula. In case of talaq, all gifts received during the marriage and afterwards will be the property of the bride.

In absence of a divorce, the nikahnama says any woman can go for separation if the husband is missing for four years, has an illicit relationship with another woman or refused to disclose HIV status before or after marriage.

Besides, issues like not providing food, clothes and other essentials will also be counted as grounds for separation. In case of separation, a woman has the right to mehar.

To avoid controversy, the new nikahnama also rules that three forms should be filled in during nikah — one for the marriage bureau, one for the bride and groom and one for the quazi.

Muslim women had criticised the model nikahnama of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), released way back in 2005, saying it failed to address the contentious issue of "triple talaq".

It also did not provide any safeguard to women against the men, who desert their wives without sufficient maintenance. It has completely ignored areas such as marriage of minors and polygamy, they had said.

"Though the model nikahnama does put together some guidelines, its greatest fault is that it makes none of these mandatory," said Amber.

By Virendra Nath Bhatt


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