By Sandhya Jain
Even as the public uproar following the Deoband Dar-ul Uloom'sfatwa annulling the marriage of 28-year-old Imrana after her alleged rape by her father-in-law refuses to die down, at least two other cases have come to light in which the victims of a similar tragedy had their marriages terminated by the local maulvis. This means that unbeknownst to most of us, Muslim women in remote villages and small towns are routinely being subjected to terrible injustice in the name of personal laws. Hence, the issue of uniform civil code must be seen in the perspective of intra-community gender justice alone.
The fortuitous exposure of young Imrana'splight by the media has brought these injustices into the limelight. Indeed, public outrage and an unexpectedly sharp reaction from the CPM and the BJP over the Deoband Dar-ul Uloom'sfatwa declaring Imrana as henceforth haraam (forbidden) to her husband compelled the seminary to deny issuing any edict in the case. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), after robustly upholding the Ansari panchayat'sdecision annulling the marriage, also retreated when faced with a rising chorus for a uniform civil code.
Yet it is uncertain if this will mitigate the victim'splight, because the self-styled spokespersons of the Muslim community have closed ranks to defend an unreformed Shariat and oppose debate on a uniform civil code. Attempts are being made to malign Imrana by alleging that a property dispute made her level such an obnoxious charge against her father-in-law. Two of her sisters-in-law have filed defamation cases against her and matters are likely to get further complicated.
Several Muslim intellectuals and legal experts are trying to hush up the matter by claiming that the Deoband fatwa is not tenable in Islam. But the unpleasant truth is that the fatwa is consistent with the Hanbali school of Shariat followed by Deoband and the Sunni Muslims.
Several Muslim intellectuals and legal experts are trying to hush up the matter by claiming that the Deoband fatwa is not tenable in Islam. But the unpleasant truth is that the fatwa is consistent with the Hanbali school of Shariat followed by Deoband and the Sunni Muslims. So if the intellectuals now feel that Sunni Muslims in India can disregard the Hanbali School, at least in some aspects, in favour of more liberal Islamic schools such as Shafi, Malik and Hanafi, they must concede that this also involves formal reform of Islamic law. Since the intellectuals are resisting this, it would appear that their current posturing is intended solely to deflect the demand for a uniform civil code.
The AIMPLB, which has no legal sanctity, but acquired prominence after Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi agreed to overturn the 1985 Supreme Court judgment giving maintenance to an old Muslim divorcee, Shah Bano, had promised to codify Muslim personal law to facilitate interpretation in precisely such situations. Of course, it did nothing, because the idea was to ward
off public pressure on the issue of justice for Muslim divorcees. Now, caught in a fresh bind over the Imrana issue, Muslim leaders and intellectuals are again resorting to subterfuges to deflect criticism about the obscurantist nature of the Shariat. Hence it is imperative that the Indian State reform Muslim personal laws the way several Islamic countries have.
A brief recapitulation of the facts will suffice to show the urgency of the matter. Imrana, wife of a rickshaw-puller in Chatarwal town of Uttar Pradesh, was allegedly raped by her father-in-law on June 3, 2005. Once the scandal broke out, the Ansari panchayat decreed automatic divorce and asked Imrana to treat her husband as a son. The couple rejected the verdict until the mighty Deoband concurred with the panchayat, causing them to cave in.
This is because Begum Naseem Iqtedar, sole woman member of the AIMPLB which endorsed Deoband'ssince denied fatwa, had concurred with the ruling saying: ?As far as the Holy Quran is concerned, Imrana'smarriage to her husband Noor Ilahi stands dissolved because she has been raped by her husband'sblood relative….?
State agencies failed to provide succour. Dr. Girja Vyas, chairperson, National Commission for Women, soft-peddled the issue, as did the Congress and Samajwadi parties. If women activists, the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, the CPM and the BJP had not raised such a hue and cry, the Deoband ulema would have officially separated the family by now. However, it is not certain if they can still survive as a unit.
This is because Begum Naseem Iqtedar, sole woman member of the AIMPLB which endorsed Deoband'ssince denied fatwa, had concurred with the ruling, saying: ?As far as the Holy Quran is concerned, Imrana'smarriage to her husband Noor Ilahi stands dissolved because she has been raped by her husband'sblood relative….? Indifferent to the young woman'splight, Iqtedar insisted: ?As believers of Islam, we have to follow what has been prescribed by the religion.? This suggests that once public attention wavers, the community leaders may yet ensure that their wishes prevail over natural justice and public morality.
The attitude of Deoband and AIMPLB raises basic questions about the legality and propriety of a sovereign and secular State giving religious clergy authoritarian powers over a community, without scope for appeal or redressal in the event of an unacceptable verdict. Distrusting such unchecked powers, the CPM and the BJP are rightly demanding that the law of the land supersede personal laws to protect women'srights.