At a time when equal rights is the buzzword, it’s only appropriate that laws that perpetuate gender inequality be subjected to scrutiny and reformation. Coinciding with this Women’s Day, some women’s collectives in Kerala launched a campaign to make the Muslim Personal Law in India more female-friendly. They are holding a series of conferences to highlight the deep-rooted biases and struggles that women in the community go through to claim their rights. The demand for reformation, which had remained as whispers in some corners, hogged the limelight after C Shukkur, a prominent lawyer, and his academician wife, Dr Sheena, decided to go for a re-marriage under the Special Marriages Act to circumvent the provisions of the Muslim inheritance laws and ensure that their three daughters get their entire property.
According to the existing Muslim Personal Law, one-third of the share of a father’s property would go to his brothers if he doesn’t have a male child. Women’s groups feel the law is loaded against women and the spirit of the Quran’s teachings. They argue that many Muslim countries have changed personal laws without challenging the basic sanctity of Sharia.
However, many Muslim organisations in Kerala watch the developments with suspicion and fear. They believe that the stage is being set for implementing the Uniform Civil Code, and the recent developments align with the trend of attacking everything that is Islamic. They are planning a counter-campaign involving top leaders from the community. But, the women’s organisations have made it clear their intention is not to seek a Uniform Civil Code. They only want some changes in the existing laws to make them more gender-sensitive, as in the case of Hindu and Christian succession acts. While political parties understandably stay away from the debate, community leaders should treat this as an opportunity for a healthy discussion. The forces that vitiate the atmosphere must be kept at bay. The genuine concerns raised by the women’s organisations need to be addressed, and at the same time, all efforts should be made to respect religious sentiments. The elements that see the current discussions as an opportunity to deride the community should be isolated. A situation should be created for scholarly deliberations that dispassionately examine the issues involved.