Meet one of the brains behind 'Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act'- The draft law that aims to abolish oral divorce, polygamy
Dr. Noorjehan Safia Niaz, Co-founder of NGO 'Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA)' has been working towards the empowerment of Muslim women in India. This year she along with her team has finalised a draft Muslim family law, known as the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, that aims to abolish oral divorce divorce system from the Muslim community, polygamy and also stipulates the mehr amount paid to a woman at her wedding.
In an interview she talks about her work, inspiration and ambition. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q. How you got inspired to found this organization which fights for Muslim women rights?
Noorjehan Safia Niaz (NS): I have been working with BMMA for many years. I am working in different organizations and in the community. Now we are looking for the possibility of working at the national level also. We felt that we need to have a national organization which can bring all Muslim women together from more countries.
Q. It is a perception that Muslim women are not privileged to speak or take an independent stand. You still asked others to join in a movement aimed toward bringing change in the lives of Muslim women. What kind of problem you faced during all this movement?
NS: I faced few of them like how do we help Muslim women to come out of their home and join a movement like this. Then there were also difficulties from some religious groups who were not very encouraging and didn't approve the idea of Muslim women coming out of their homes like this and join us. But we didn't face any severe issue. Presently we have about 50 thousand women with us and more and more Muslim women are joining us.
Q. How tough it is to make Muslim women from underprivileged section of the society to understand the goals you are pursuing?
NS: No, it is not very difficult because they are going through the same process. The problem against which our organization is fighting for and the actual problems of women aren't different as there is a link between two. Whatever problem Muslim women are facing, whatever process they are going through has automatically become the motive of the organization. All women have a common problem and our organization is perfect enough to understand it too.
Q. What are the major problems that you have noticed in the Muslim community with respect to Muslim women?
NS: The government should be willing to listen to the voice of Muslim women. When we (Muslim women) approach government for our rights they ask for eligible (male) person to talk on the related issues. You know, even Muslim women have their own voice too, Muslim women have right to present their opinion before the government and they are organizing all together. The government has failed to know the importance to our (Muslim women) voice or opinion. That is one challenge.
The other challenge is, we are going through a communal environment especially Muslim women. People have labeled the community (Muslim) with a tag of terrorism. And these things have been done by the RSS. They are more into tarnishing the image of a particular community and which is even effecting Muslim women too. Even somewhere the existing government is affecting the rights of Muslim women.
Q. You have come out with a draft Muslim family law to abolish oral divorce system and some evils from the Muslim community. Did you discuss the same draft law with Muslim men? What was their response?
NS. Muslim men were part of the consultation. Its been 7 years that BMMA is active and even in a single consultation of any topic male Muslims were there. And they supported us too. Only religious groups have opposed our stand. Rest of the Muslim males were very supportive. They are big part of our consultation group. The draft law It is now in public domain. Anyone can comment or share their opinion related to it.
Q. Are the Muslim women accepting the changes you have suggested or suggesting to them? How they are responding towards your suggestions?
NS. Whatever we have proposed in the draft law hadn't been decided by a 2-3 people but it is an outcome of that consultation (including both Muslim men and women) which was going on from last 7 years. Suggestions from thousands of Muslim women, leaders, scholars and Muslim men made this draft law to finally come out in public domain.
Q. India is facing a major problem in the form of uncontrolled population. Government's campaign 'Hum Do, Humare Do' is going on since decade to put a check on population growth. Do you think the Muslim community is positively responding to this campaign?
NS: Muslim community is not the one who is boosting the increasing rate of Indian population. RSS and BJP are the one who disseminated the foul rumors about a particular community (for ex. Hindu is allowed to get married once but in case of Muslim things are different). Poverty ridden communities are the one who contribute more in the increasing rate of population. Either they belong to Muslim community, tribal community or any other community. The increasing rate of population is interlinked with increasing rate of poverty in the nation. It is not related to Muslim community.It is a high time to break that myth. This is wrong, Muslims are not responsible for it. One should try to break the connection what RSS tried to build in. Population is increasing because of poverty only. People who are from middle or upper-middle class are also having more than two children. So, this is a myth and it is totally absurd.
Q. What is your opinion on sex ratio within the Muslim community?
NS: It is very good and in better condition. At least Muslim community having that much audacity to not to kill female fetus in womb only. Because it's prophet Muhammad's message to the community, 'Girl child should not be killed'. Of course, sex ratio is not 100 per cent but it is better in comparison to other communities.
Q. You must have heard about Love-Jihad. What you think, is it a myth or reality?
NS: It is BSP and BJP's propaganda. If Muslim boys are getting married with Hindu girls, then on the other side Hindu boys are also getting married with Muslim girls. If there is Love-Jihad then the reciprocate form of its also exists. It is a personal choice of any individual. They have found another way to tarnish the image of Muslim community by involving politically in it and making issue out of it.