India: Right brigade picks holes in Nikahnamah

The Telegraph - India
Tearing into shreds the model nikaahnama released last week by the All India Muslim Personal Board, several women's and human rights organizations slammed it for being blatantly anti-women and reactionary.
At a news conference called by the Muslim Women's Rights Network, Majlis, and India Center and for Human Rights and Law Forum Against Oppression of Women, the speakers pointed out why the nikaahnama (marriage contract), touted, as "revolutionary" by the board, was not acceptable.
" We had hoped that the personal law board would protect women's rights with the nikaahnama," said Noorjehan of the Muslim Women's Right Network. "However, this would not only be a retrograde step undermining the rights of Muslim Women, but would also further ghettoize the community."

Citing Examples from the nikaahnama, she said it was an act of misogyny- something the law board has always been guilty of. The activists also rejected the law board and its authority, saying it did not represent Indian Muslims.

The nikaahnama contains the following recommendations for women, they said.

"Jahan tak mumkin ho shauhar ki lihaaz rakhna" (As far as possible, the wife should be considerate about the need of the husband for "relief")

"Jaaiz baton mein iski farmabardai karna" (The wife should be obedient to the husband)

"Kahin aana jaana ho to shauhar ki ijazat se jaana" (the wife should take the permission of the husband before stepping out)

"Apni izzat aur aabru ka poori tarah hifazat karna"(she should be very cautious about her honour and respectability)

"Hasbe zaroorat walidaiyan aur moharrium rishtedaaron se mulaqat ka mauqa dena"(When the need arises, the wife should be allowed to meet her parents and relatives)

"Another negative feature of the nikaahnama is that the board encourages a couple to turn to Muslim authorities for arbitration on their marriage, as opposed to the secular, judicial system of the countary," Noorjehan said, as Musqaan, another activist, tore a copy of the nikaahnama into bits. But it was under attack for avoiding the triple talaq and not giving women the right to seek divorce.

Several members of the community, including women have suffered because of Islamic marital laws in India, said the board does not even mention it clearly while its absolute withdrawal is need of the hour.

Hassan Kamal, a columnist and a more moderate voice, criticised the board strongly for being evasive on triple talaq. "It is un-Quranic and 21 Islamic countries in the world have either banned it or have made court intervention compulsory in marriage arbitration," he said.

He added that individual members on the board saw the necessity of the real reform, but could not push it through because of sectarian politics within.

Shameem, a bead-worker from Santa Cruz, broke into sobs as she talked about her 12-year-old marriage to an unemployed man who could not maintain her or their two children but would not let her step out of the house. However, she could not seek divorce, as Islamic law did not allow that.

The organizations are pressing for talaq-e-tafwiz, which is the woman's right to divorce, if her husband has granted her the power, but the board is not encouraging on that.

Hasnain Khan of Awaaz-e-Niswan and Noorjehan said the nikaahnama was also pointless because it was not made mandatory by the board, nor was board the representative voice of Muslims in the country.

"There is a common misconception that the board is law making body for Muslims in the country and its word is the rule of law. The other misconception is that they are representative of the Muslim voice, a notion reinforced by political parties and media," Khan said. "Hum nikaahnama aur board ko nahin mante," Musqaan said.

But Kamal said it was contradictory to reject the authority of the board while protesting against it. "The board should ban triple talaq as law. It has the power to make laws. It recently passed the law that ensures the share of a daughter in agricultural property," he said.

Traditionalists, however, continued to defend the model nikaahnama on the ground that step should be seen in the context of social conditions and prevailing socio-economic indicators of Muslims in the country. Urdu writer and Muslim board member Uzma Naheed termed the nikaahnama a "milestone" in empowerment of the community. Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq echoed the author, saying much of the criticism was due to "gross ignorance."

Originally published on 9 May 2005.