Convention debates issues related to rights of Muslim women

“Shah Bano fought for her rights in 1986. Years later we are still fighting, though in our own different ways,” said Rubeena Patel of Muslim Mahila Manch of Nagpur, at a two-day convention of the All India Muslim Women's Rights Network (AIMWRN).

The case of Shah Bano, who fought a controversial divorce lawsuit and was subsequently denied alimony, continues to be reflected in the struggles of many Muslim women in India even today, argued Ms. Patel.

She was among the women's activists from across India who debated issues related to the rights of Muslim women — ranging from property rights and triple talaq to issues of health and education — at the convention held at Vimochana, Bangalore-based women's rights group, on Saturday and Sunday.

“Triple talaq on SMS, e-mail or phone continues to be practised irrespective of what the courts say. There are fatwas against women which are difficult to fight for an ordinary woman with no resources,” said Ms. Patel.

Double edged

The struggle for activists like Ms. Patel is double edged and difficult. While she fights the fundamentalist elements within the community, she also has to fight communal elements that are keen on appropriating her for their own ulterior motive of strengthening stereotypes against Muslims. “It is important to look for solutions in terms of what is acceptable in the community. But there should be analysis and reform within too,” said Ms. Patel.

Sandhya Gokhale of Forum Against Oppression of Women, Mumbai, said the movement sought to look at issues of Muslim women not within the framework of religion alone, but in terms of their citizenship and gender rights. “Muslim women's rights are seen within the larger context of women's movement,” she said.

This had been particularly hard after the Gujarat riots, when “the community closed in” and there was a reluctance to see women's issues outside the framework of religion, Ms. Gokhale said.

Rights and games

Activists like Ayesha Khatum of Mohammed Bazaar Backward Classes Development Society from West Bengal, another participant at the convention, said that they had been trying to mobilise young girls to break out of conventional frameworks. “Our Taruni Bahini campaign draws adolescent girls into physically rigorous games as well as education on their rights,” she said.

Ms. Khatum's organisation will now be working towards ensuring that the newly sworn-in Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Bannerjee, implements her promise of having special schemes for Muslim women. “She has also said that she will implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee Report,” she said.

“We are not asking for anything new. We are asking that whatever women are entitled to under both the Constitution and the Shariat law be given to them,” said Tanzeem of Vimochana.