All religious personal laws are discriminatory and must change..

Problems faced by the fair sex, particularly the Muslim women, came to the fore at an international conference here on Wednesday. There was a general consensus about the exclusionary practices suffered by Muslim women in society at large and within the community in particular.

The three-day conference on “Status of Muslim women in Indian sub-continent” got underway at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) with a call to go beyond the stereotype image of Muslim women and re-establishing their identity from an authentic Islamic perspective.

“The socio-political mobilisation in different parts of the world, particularly the “Arab spring” and the strong presence of women in it, is having a great impact. Women’s rights would be central to the new Constitutions being framed in these countries,” hoped Zoya Hasan, Dean, School of Social Sciences, JNU, Delhi.

In her key note address, Prof. Zoya said the socio-political mobilisation had picked up in India too, particularly after the horrific rape of the paramedic in Delhi. Yet the socio-economic status of women remained dismal. Even the Sachar Committee report, which was hailed as progressive, had missed the Muslim women aspect.

Prof. Zoya dwelled at length on the Shah Bano case and said the reversal of the apex court’s verdict by the Rajiv Gandhi government had led to the intensification of communal politics in the 1990s. Subsequently, there was a strong advocacy for uniform civil code by the BJP. “There is agreement that all religious personal laws are discriminatory and must therefore change. Whether it should be through State-sponsored civil code or internal reform is the question,” she said.

Muslim women in India, she said, faced many challenges. They also suffered disadvantages in education, employment and access to welfare programmes. Prof. Zoya regretted the emphasis on personal laws, when it came to Muslim women’s rights as though they were entirely responsible for their problems. “This has resulted in glossing over the economic, political and social problems that define everyday experiences of Muslim women,” she remarked.

Hameeda Naeem, Professor of English, Kashmir University, said the diverse views about Shariah laws and crisis in their implementation had become a road block in social justice for women. She wanted critics within Muslim community to come together for bringing out reforms.

Striking a dissenting note, Uzma Naheed, member, Muslim Personal Law Board, said there was no scope for change or improvement in Islamic laws. The condition of Muslims would have been different if they had followed Islamic teachings fully. She regretted that Muslim religious groups were not doing their bit for education and overall development of women of the community.

Vice-Chancellor, MANUU, Mohammad Miyan, said there was need for creating awareness about rights of Muslim women.

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