Speaking out for the Muslim women
Suhas | 11 Nov 2006

A NUMBER OF issues were discussed on the second day of the Indian Social Forum (ISF). Among them was the theme of Land, Resources and Matrimonial Rights of Muslim Women. The NGOs that brought up the issue and took a stand were Consult for Women and Land Rights (CWLR) and Women’s Research and Action Group (WRAG).
To strengthen Muslim women’s right in matrimonial property, the participants demanded the following changes: abolition of polygamy or restricted polygamy; abolition of oral, unilateral divorce; equal right to divorce with due process of arbitration; maintenance for self and children after divorce; right to adopt; custody of children to be the decision of women; equal property right, including agricultural land, right to matrimonial land, right to matrimonial home; restriction on early marriage; strengthening the marriage contract or the nikaahnama to secure women her matrimonial rights.
The speakers said the forum has helped them highlight such unequal laws. Muslim women are deprived of their rights of property and also to work for their livelihood. It is immaterial whether the property is movable or immovable. But the Quran says the opposite. The Quran states that from what is left by the parents there is a share for men and women.
Some states, mostly southern, have made amendments in these laws. Countries like Turkey and Somalia have full gender equality in inheritance laws.
In India, Muslim women’s rights to property is governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. Under the Act, the women enjoy some notable rights to property, but disabilities remain vis-à-vis the agricultural land in some states. Whatever rights Muslim women have, are not implemented.
“We need to take a step forward. We need to look at our personal laws from a gender perspective,” Noor Jahan (WRAG) said. Women are not aware of such things at a lower level. They live in a state where mystified religion rules over awareness and education.
The government has not been of much help. The judgment was passed by the Supreme Court in 1986, and since then there has been no effort by the State or by the Muslim community to revive the process of gender-just reforms in Muslim personal law.
It is upon the men and women to come out and make it a just society for these women. A study done by WRAG shows that 56 per cent Muslim women want changes in Muslim personal law and these changes should be within the Quranic framework. The NGOs say that the men interpret the Quran in the way it will benefit them. “The Quran does not suggest any man to marry several times, but men have interpreted it in their own way which is absolutely not just for the woman,” says Noor Jahan.
The NGOs laid down recommendations to increase Indian Muslim Women’s Land and Resource Rights which are: 
  • Implementing the allocation of 40 per cent of government land grants for women’s groups. Reserving 33 per cent of rural development budgets for women’s development and reserving 10 per cent of this budget for minority communities.
  • Creation of livelihood-related resources, employment opportunities and skills.
  • Encouraging public and community affirmative action to convert property in woman’s name.
  • Prohibit forced evictions such that families have security of tenure.
  • Ensuring that adequate rehabilitation (land, housing, livelihood and amenities) in place before people are relocated.

For more articles on ISF, go to India Social Forum