Skip to main content
xYOU DESERVE INDEPENDENT, CRITICAL MEDIA. We want readers like you. Support independent critical media.

Uttarakhand’s UCC Seen Through Muslim Women’s Political Perspective

Muslim women, battling patriarchy in the courts and within their community make a strong independent case for agency and voice; personal laws and other norms and practices remain stumbling blocks to a community also battling marginalisation within an autocrising majoritarian, Indian democracy.
Representation Image

Representation Image

Uttarakhand’s Uniform Civil Code (UCC) poses a great sense of alarm to the political reality of Indian Muslims. A uniform law on marriage, divorce, inheritance, that even impacts consenting adult live-in relationships has drawn a celebratory impulse from the dominant right-wing. The unanswered question remains, however: is the Uttarakhand UCC really an end to our long battle and struggle towards a gender-just society?

Since 2014, the government in power has strategically corrupted the autonomy of the judicial system. The majoritarian regime in power has also located the patriarchy in Islam and within Muslim personal laws. Their attempt to smash “this patriarchy and save Muslim women” has, to some extent, harmed India’s secular fabric and democratic ethos, perhaps, for them, merely collateral damage in their march to a morphed theocratic state.

We write this with concern and urgency as the government is making us –Muslim women–a ploy and  a bait to criminalise minority communities and attack constitutionalism. At this present juncture, we assert our position for a gender-just law that safeguards our rights as well as that of a Muslim community from dominant authoritarianism.

Muslim women’s struggles and the failure of religious leadership

For years, the Muslim women leadership has insisted, in their own, specific articulation, based on their lived experiences, on the streets and in Parliament, to refute and refuse discriminatory practices within Muslim Personal Law and put forth their demand for a gender-just law.

We have profoundly experienced that all personal laws discriminate against all women. These laws do not sanction rights to those who challenge the institution of family, religion, and customs. Therefore, we speak from the standpoint of those who are directly affected by the family laws that remain gender unjust.

Despite spearheading the movement to bring reforms within our own communities, including the formulation of Nikah-Nama, protesting against fatwas and advocating reforms in discriminatory personal laws, the state has never taken any steps to hear our concerns and protect our rights effectively.

On the contrary, it is the Muslim religious leaders and other conservative forces that have failed our community. Their actions and words have impacted the socio-political reality of our community.  Muslim women have been struggling against forces within the community who seek to control their bodies under the guise of protecting the religion by chanting ‘Islam is in Danger’.  For example, statements by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, who declared, “We cannot accept any law that is against the Sharia because a Muslim can compromise with anything but Sharia and religion”, and from politicians like the Samajwadi Party MP, emphasising adherence to Quranic instructions highlight their rigid adherence to religious principles. This rigid adherence places disproportionate burdens of family honour, morality, and religious sanctity on women’s bodies, perpetuating patriarchal violence in the name of our liberation.

The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), claiming to speak for the rights of (all) the Muslim community, with its conservative positions on the issue of reforms within the Muslim Personal Law, has further thrown us into the hands of the draconian regime.

During the Shah Bano case, we witnessed attempts to suppress her ability to dissent in the name of religion. Similarly, in today’s context, Muslim women’s space for dissent is restricted under the pretext of her Qaum – community allegiance with the refrain that ‘yeh waqt sahi nahi hai – this is not the right time.’

Time and again, we have witnessed that it is the fundamentalist forces suppressed voices advocating for Muslim women’s rights, falsely claiming that changes in the personal law contradict the religion. And we continue to ask how long the community and the Muslim religious groups will remain immutable?

We, as part of the women’s movement, collectively organised ourselves, went to the courtrooms and fought to bring a new discourse from the lens of a feminist perspective on MPL and its aspects, such as polygamy, halala, and inheritance rights, and started challenging religious fundamentalism.

The Uttarakhand’s Uniform Civil Code is still not tenable.

Marking National Muslim Women’s Day on August 1 serves as a stark reminder of how this government have only sought to appropriate our struggles while simultaneously criminalising our community. It is crucial to highlight that whenever Muslim women sought recourse in the court, the Supreme Court consistently addressed their concerns through the lens of religion and identity politics rather than adhering to the constitutional provisions meant to protect their rights.

This celebratory impulse over the Uttarakhand UCC bill, especially for bringing ‘genuine’ secularism and gender justice, eludes crucial questions of personal freedoms, autonomy and diverse lived experiences and reality.

The state is resorting to traditional methods to curb the agency of women in heteronormative live-in relationships, all the while overlooking the existing protections outlined in the Domestic Violence Act of 2005.

Much has been written about how Uttarakhand’s UCC and its provisions regarding live-in relationships, which, as per the state’s convoluted logic, ensure and safeguard the rights of women.

These are also matters concerning Muslim women, who may once again find themselves subjected to suffering at the hands of the institution of family, the state, and third parties. Here, the third party could be the involvement of any institution, from community Khaps, Jamaats to even Fatwa-judgements. The punitive measures after being unable to register the live-in relationships are in no way a protective measure but to further surveil the relationships that challenge the institution of marriage.

Although Uttarakhand’s UCC has, to some extent, addressed the unequal laws on halala, iddat and bigamy, divorce, property, maintenance, and inheritance. Nevertheless, it serves as a great example of what a myopic view of gender equality and justice would be.

The Muslim community is in itself a diverse community that consists of persons who are from marginalised gender and sexuality. Uttarakhand’s UCC excludes the diverse forms of relationships and civil partnerships. Furthermore, it does not provide any mechanisms for ensuring social security for women from vulnerable groups.

Lately, every discussion around Muslim women’s rights has solely revolved around personal laws. While Muslim women, already a minority within a minority, are often limited to discussions about their headscarves, religion, and marriage, how can we advocate for her rights that extend beyond discriminatory personal laws?

Uttarakhand’s UCC is not aimed at Muslim women; it is also not aimed at the Muslim community, but it is solely aimed at the Hindutva extremists all over India.

We urge religious organisations not to attribute our political voice to the current government’s agenda. We need to understand that these are longstanding battles that we have been fighting independently.

To the AIMPLB and other religious organisations often in the limelight, we emphasise that despite the attention, we continue to lack our fundamental rights and entitlements. It’s an appeal not to disregard the question of patriarchy and religious conservatism within the community while dealing with the repeated onslaught of democratic rights of the Muslim community.

“Your statements and positions in the media only serve to enable the current government to exploit our cause. It is crucial for us to regain our political consciousness, build novel strategies to fight against the Hindutva onslaught and address these issues on our own terms.”

(Hasina Khan, a founder member of Bebaak Collective is a gender rights activist based in Mumbai. Mridul Kaintura is a PhD research scholar at TISS, Mumbai)

Courtesy: sabrang India

Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.

Subscribe Newsclick On Telegram