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Aug 23, 2017

Dear Cynics, These Are the People Who Made the Victory Over Instant Triple Talaq Possible

We want everyone, irrespective of political leanings, to support us in our fight for gender justice and reforms in Muslim personal laws from within.

We want everyone, irrespective of political leanings, to support us in our fight for gender justice and reforms in Muslim personal laws from within.

Noorjehan Safiya Niza, Zakia Soman and Khatoon Sheikh, activists of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan. Credit: Two Circles

The Supreme Court’s verdict in the triple talaq case is a victory not for any political party but for the many women who have been struggling for gender justice and demanding reforms from within.

Much has already been said and written about the judgment and more legal analyses are bound to follow. But I want to address the underlying suspicion and disenchantment which some ‘progressives’ have begun to feel towards those who should actually be hailed for their courage.

Social media is a very hollow space. In the wake of the historic triple talaq judgment, many friends and fellow activists have been calling the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) to congratulate it and its women for their years of struggle. But there are so many ‘progressive’ young men and women who, having had little or no interactions with women who have faced the evil of triple talaq, are not just linking the struggle of these women with vested political interests but are also rubbishing years of their struggle  on various other issues as mere hogwash. Activism on WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts was the order of the day today while we rejoiced! What a shame. This is a reply to all of them.

I joined the BMMA as a young woman activist in 2012. I joined in a voluntary capacity because it is a movement. My first memory of BMMA was Zakia Soman and Noorjehan Safia Niaz introducing me to the state convenors of the movement and telling me how it came about.

I met all of them at a convention against triple talaq in Mumbai the same year. Please note, the year was 2012. Nishat apa, a widow nearing 60, vociferously fights for Muslim women in Jaipur. She and her team are available 24 hours a day to deal with issues such as domestic violence, food security, scholarships etc which the women who trust them come to them with. Sure, there have been various court judgments – including Shamim Ara, which first declared instant triple talaq invalid – that Nishat apa could cite to immediately offer solace but for women seeking temporary redressal there is no substitute for action on the ground. She runs a Shariah court today from her own house because she believes women who come to her believing they will get some relief cannot be turned away. Her workers visit police stations with these women and fearlessly demand action be taken against their husbands wherever there is violence or other criminal activity involved.

Nasreen, a 33-year-old activist from Hospet, Karnataka let go of all of her savings and her dreams of buying a scooter and invested the money she had saved over the years to buy three desktops to start a little computer training centre for young Muslim boys and girls in her community. She runs a small sewing centre too  and has been training youth on gender, women’s rights etc for over four years now. Life is not easy for a single Muslim woman like her, who is also bringing up her sister’s daughter as her own, but she finds happiness in contributing to the cause of the community and is content in the little she earns to make ends meet.

I also met Safia apa from Bhopal and Khatoon Sheikh from Mumbai at this meeting. Both working with the Muslim community, linking youth with government schemes, assisting Muslim women who have been facing violence at home or have been divorced arbitrarily by their husbands, meeting municipal heads to fix issues of road construction and water, running livelihood training centres free of cost, tirelessly, day after day.

All of these women, including Noorjehan and Zakia have broken the shackles of patriarchy within their own homes, and have dared to challenge the status quo, fearlessly. So, what are they up against? Well, plenty.

Not only are they, and now I can say, we, targeted for questioning the status quo and upsetting the patriarchal clergy within the community, but our efforts are being maligned by a whispering campaign about ‘hidden forces’ allegedly backing us politically and financially.

As someone who is very closely working with the women in the movement – seeing the daily struggles of how to get ‘chanda’ (donations) from the community and buy a new sewing machine, or a second hand computer – I am left aghast. None of us identify ourselves as being part of any political party. And we are very open in this assertion of ours. Some of our critics have the audacity to call our work ‘humbug’ – a word someone used in a TV debate when I invited him to come and visit a BMMA livelihood centre.

Many others say the number of victims nationally is not large enough to make instant triple talaq an issue that needs immediate redressal. So do we wait for the numbers to rise instead then? Leading lawyers and activists also seem to have a problem with the BMMA and others asking for a conclusive judgement from the apex court on an issue they deal with on a daily basis. As a lawyer friend, Saptarshi Mandal, while critiquing the triple talaq judgement very simply but beautifully put it, “May be the judgment need not be assessed for its ‘legal’ contribution at all. For lawyers, judges and law teachers are not the only audiences that judgments speak to. May by some cleric who so far had been declaring instant triple talaq to be valid (despite Shamim Ara), would stop doing so. We have to wait to see the kind of popular legal literacy this judgment creates”

On Tuesday, we were all sitting together waiting to hear from the Supreme Court on our plea to strike down instant triple talaq. While the entire group burst into a little jig after the verdict, there were so many efforts at undermining our morale, and those of others fighting for the same cause. Our efforts were said by some to have a negative effect and help the Hindutva agenda. Sarcasm was the order of the day for others who asked if we would stand up for the widows of those lynched by gau-rakshaks. Is there really a ‘this or that’ when it comes to women’s rights? I personally am a member of BMMA and I also try and address, in my own limited capacity, issues such as beef lynchings, rapes during riots etc. Does one have to scream out loud about all the work one is doing on multiple fronts just to satisfy ignorant, doubting minds? Clearly not.

It is ridiculous to associate us with a particular political party just because they have come upfront and supported our fight, while some others did not. We want everyone, irrespective of political leanings, to support us in our fight for gender justice and reforms in Muslim personal laws from within.

We will not be deterred in our cause. I will not let false allegations and shallow uninformed opinions affect me or my trust in these women – women who are constantly struggling to make a little change in hundreds of lives in their own ways. Reform in Muslim law from within the community is the need of the day. There is a long way to go, but this judgment is definitely a step in the right direction.

Mariya Salim is a women’s rights activist and researcher with a degree in Human Rights Law from SOAS, London. She is member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan.

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