Gender (In)Equality In India

With the recent upsurge surrounding the ‘Teen Talaq’ or ‘Triple Talaq’. One is forced to review, how poorly situated women are in Indian society. In a patriarchal and misogynist society such as India’s, women are treated as second class citizens. They are thought to be thoroughly incompetent and thereby male domination is obviously justified. No amount of laws and court rulings can set this right. Despite the presence of the Hindu succession Act. Hindu women are still willed out by their parents. They have to resort to troublesome court cases to get what is rightfully theirs.

Inspite of this, Hindu and Christians have some sort of a Supreme Court-approved family law. Why is it that Muslims do not have one? The long-drawn controversy over the uniform Civil Code and the staunch opposition posed by Muslim bodies such as the All-India Muslim Law Board are proof that Muslim misogynists are unwilling to let go of the wrongfully attained power that makes them more powerful in the household. Many Muslim women activists claim and correctly so, that this unilateral and arbitrary form of divorce is actually un-Quranic. The Quran does not place women in a subservient position. It is the self-appointed Muslim ‘Holy-Men’ who have interpreted the Quran in a way that favors them.

Some of the key findings of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan 2013 survey of 4,710 muslim women in 10 states showed that 92.1% of them wanted a total ban on oral divorce. 91.7% of the women did not want their husbands to marry another woman during the first marriage. 93% wanted an arbitration process to be mandatory before divorce. 95.6% women wanted their ex-husband to pay for the children’s maintenance even if she holds their custody lastly. 83.3% women believed codification of Muslim laws would help Muslim women to get justice.

The Muslim personal law needs to be reformed. Just like the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act and the Christian Marriage and Divorce Acts, Muslim women feel they too are entitled to a codified Muslim Family Law.

Gender justice is a fundamental principle of every religion. The self appointed custodians of faith enable the tyranny over women through practices like triple talaq, halal and polygamy. Personal Law has nothing to do with religion. Customary practices have been codified to be used as tools of patriarchy. Though codified laws will help, it cannot thoroughly succeed unless the mindset of men is changed. Even women stay away from using the existing laws to their benefit. Patriarchy and misogyny are so deeply rooted in the minds of Indians, that change and reforms receive a lukewarm welcome.

The BJP- government is facing tough opposition from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which has the support of many Muslim organizations regarding the uniform Civil Code. However, what is most needed is a change from within. Rather than having the government forcefully make and enforce laws, people should be made to understand the importance of such laws. In the era of progress and democracy, if India lags behind on something as fundamental and crucial as gender equality and women’s empowerment, then it is truly a shame and a failure.

The writer, Srishti Negal, is a student of Honors in Political Science at St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

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