We are writing this open letter to our fellow women’s groups, human rights groups and concerned individuals to bring into attention three primary concerns that have emerged as a corollary to the ongoing series of events around the issue of triple talaq. As we all know ‘triple talaq’ has always been a contentious question in the women’s movement since the times of Shehnaaz Sheikh, who in 1983 filed a petition in the apex challenging triple talaq and continues to be so with the petition filed by Shayara Bano in 2016. The issue of Personal Laws has always been a volatile debate considering the ever impending question that whether women should be treated as right bearing individual citizen or member of a particular community. In recent times, right after reopening of the triple talaq debate, the Law Commission of India took out a questionnaire on uniform civil code to begin ‘a healthy conversation about the viability of uniform civil code’ in the name of women’s rights. However, it has been more divisive for all the progressive voices within the community. Meanwhile, All India Muslim Personal Law Board has opened a signature campaign all over the states taking support from women of the community to reiterate that any change in the Sharia should come from within and that members of the community should resist the banning of triple talaq. Signature campaigns which are being conducted in almost every Muslim dominated locality raises questions about the methodology through which one reaches out to the community, and also how by being able to mobilize opinion one kind of voice in the community becomes an authentic representation. In the midst of these tumultuous times, we want to earmark certain aspects:
The way Muslim community is diverse within itself there are equally varied voices within the community on the issue of Personal Laws. Therefore, no singular opinion must be treated as the sole voice of the community. Such presumption about the ‘authentic’ Muslim voice shall be fatal for the community as it was during 1984.
Law Commission’s questionnaire which has come now is a strategic move which will have far reaching ripples. Muslim community is a socially vulnerable community as attested by multiple Reports including Sachar Committee Report of 2005 and they require various affirmative actions to better their conditions of living. However, it is also a fact that ‘rescuing’ the ‘vulnerable’ Muslim women seems to form an ideological base for the majoritarian right wing government and its allies. As women’s groups we fight this appropriation of our causes to the State’s ends.
We and our fellow women’s groups have been working in different states while staying within the community. We have been shared with that in the ongoing debates there is also a simmering rise of insecurity among women’s groups who fear to be targeted for being against the community or religion. Recently, a group of women’s activists were targeted in Govandi, in Mumbai while campaigning against triple talaq in the community. They had altercations with the community ‘leaders’. These stray incidents of quashing down of women’s voices in the community will have far reaching affects for the Muslim women’s leadership itself who has emerged after much struggle.
This time, we want to cumulate our strength to imagine gender justice for Muslim women whose contours are not defined by normative religious practices and also, where plurality of everyday will find expression. We do not want our living realities or struggles to be subsumed by any force in the name of rescuing, which works in absolute continuum with the despotic paternalism of majoritarian power. We also want to open the lid of gender justice which will push the conversations beyond the questions of triple talaq. We want to gather support and strength in this time to create a new history and not a rerun of that which is past in 1984.
On behalf of
Bebaak Collective (Voices of the Fearless)