Was Shah Bano Movement Misplaced? — Dr Javed Jamil

Muslims participate in a protest rally against the Triple Talaq Bill, in Mumbai on March 31, 2018. (Photo: IANS)

Dr Javed Jamil | Caravan Daily

IN his address to the Parliament in response to the President’s address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated the oft-repeated charge against the Shah Bano Movement, calling the decision to exempt Muslim demand a blunder of the Congress. Hindutva lobby has always used Congress’s decision to pass the new act, branding it to be the biggest example of “Appeasement”.

While Hindus, especially upper caste Hindus, reserve exclusive rights to be pampered through favourable socio-economic policies, slight favour to Muslims becomes a policy of “appeasement” for the Hindutva lobby. Even certain Muslims tend to think of the Shah Bano Movement as a miscalculated move, which in their view led to the Babri Masjid demolition.

Their view is, of course, misplaced, because while the Shah Bano issue was totally an internal issue of Muslims with nothing whatsoever at stake for them, the Babri issue was related to claims and counterclaims by two communities. And of course, Mr. Arif Mohammad Khan has never come out of the Shah Bano days, wasting his talents to do something substantial for the community.

Incidentally, I happened to be the first, or at best among the very first to organize a big juloos in Saharanpur against the Shah Bano judgment. It had picked up with the Late Shahabuddin leading the movement to its logical conclusion. I was just 23 then and had given a call for juloos not out of any desire to enter politics or activism, but because of the dangers the Judgment posed to the institution of marriage and family system. If Modi is finding faults with the decision of the Congress Government to undo the SC Verdict through Muslim Women Act, it is out of the poor understanding of the reasons why the Muslims opposed the very verdict.

In order to understand the premises of why the verdict was opposed, we will have to understand the basic Islamic philosophy behind the marriage and family system:

First, Islam permits sexual relationships only between males and females and within the institution of marriage. Relations outside a proper marriage is not only a sin but also punishable under law. There is no place for living-in or adulterous relationships in Islam.

Second, in Islam, the process of marriage is required to be easy for everyone, and the process of divorce is to be relatively easy but not instant. If the correct Islamic method of divorce is followed, it would require the decision of divorcing, whether by husband, or wife, to stand for a period of three months, to be extended till the delivery if she is pregnant. If the process of divorce is made difficult, as in most Western countries, and sex becomes permissible outside marriage, it would disintegrate the family system. In West, people prefer to remain in a relationship without marriage just because of that, with the result that 30-60 per cent of children are born out of wedlock and are stuck in a single parent family scenario for life.

Third, in Islam, there has to be either a relationship between husband and wife with physical, social and financial dimensions, or no relation at all. The obligations, physical as well as financial, of the husband and the wife towards each other are limited to the period of marriage; there is none before Nikah and none after the culmination of Iddah. Accepting the Shah Bano Verdict of the Supreme Court would mean that while the wife has ceased to offer anything to the husband, the husband provides maintenance for the rest of her life, or till she remarries. This would deter the woman as well as man to remarry because for the woman, the financial necessity of marriage would not arise and for the man, this would mean an extra burden.

There appeared many instances within the Muslim community where within a few months after marriage, the wife walked out of it and filed a case against the husband seeking lifelong maintenance. Had the Shah Bano verdict not been reversed, such cases would have fast multiplied, threatening the whole institution of marriage.

I have seen many cases among Hindus, which can be regarded as nothing but the cruel results of Section 125 (CrPA). Mr. Yogesh Chibber is an English lecturer in the local MS Degree College in Saharanpur, who had married around the age of 28. His wife left him after 6 months of marriage, and she was pregnant when she left. Due to this, she immediately moved to the Court for maintenance. Although the case did begin, it continued for more than 25 years. Neither did she agree to return, nor did she agree for a divorce. It must be noted that she was getting a monthly maintenance throughout the period. But being a Hindu, Mr. Chibber could not even remarry. At about the age of 56, he developed blood cancer and died, and within a few days of death, his wife started demanding possession of the assets he had left. Throughout the whole process, the father and the son had hardly any contact with each other.

Another story was narrated by Justice Santosh Hegde when he delivered a lecture about a year back in Yenepoya University. Describing the cruelty caused by the lengthy procedures of the courts, he narrated the story of a couple who had moved to court for divorce while they were in their thirties. The final judgment came when they were in their late sixties, with the judges finding no reason for divorce. Hegde had merely laughed expressing his sympathies for the couple which would unite when their youth had already passed.

Shah Bano Verdict was of course also opposed because it asked the Government to work for Uniform Civil Code.

The decision of the Muslim community to launch the movement was perfectly justified and it happened to be the only major Muslim movement, which resulted in fruition. It should also remind Muslims that it is only through successful socio-political movements coupled with the legal course that they can live as a dignified community in the country. Further, they have to ensure that women get their rights in inheritance, which are being denied to them in the majority of their families.


Dr Javed Jamil is an eminent Islamic scholar and author.


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