Year of the Woman

Zakia Soman has made the Muslim woman’s battle every woman’s battle

Icon of progess: At the forefront   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji

In 2016, Zakia Soman told me that a progressive Muslim feminine voice had finally emerged in India, and 2017 proved her emphatically right. When the Supreme Court declared triple talaq illegal, it was an emotional victory for Muslim women but also a hugely significant victory against the regressive patriarchy that has held the community in its stranglehold for centuries.

Wresting control

When I met Zakia, the co-founder with Noorjehan Niaz of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), shortly after the milestone ruling, I loved how she greeted me, confident it was as much my victory as every Indian woman’s. This sense of making the Muslim woman’s battle Everywoman’s battle is perhaps Zakia’s greatest strength, removing the isolation that has always been the bane of the cause. In an earlier interview she had told me, “We see ourselves as citizens, women, Muslims, with no contradiction in these identities.”

Zakia has been at the forefront of the struggle for more than a decade now, defying the qazis, who she calls the ‘bearded ones’; wresting control from the so-called progressive male leaders who have let women down shamefully since Independence; forcing Indian feminists to sit up and take notice. It has not always made her popular, but it’s undeniable that Zakia and BMMA have given a voice to the ordinary Muslim woman like no one before.

Women have changed

“This victory is significant because it is a legal victory won in court,” she says, “and because it vindicated the unseen, unheard, uneducated, poor Muslim woman’s faith in democracy.” Zakia points out that these women have been denied rights “not because of their religion but because of patriarchy, so it was important to get them the rights granted to them by the Indian constitution.”

Historically, this is a very different moment in time from 1986, when the momentous Shah Bano judgment was overturned by a cowardly Congress government. “Society and women have changed a lot since then. I can confidently say that 99.9% of women, irrespective of religion, supported us this time,” says Zakia.

In that sense, the triple talaq judgment made 2017 a landmark year not just for delivering justice for Muslim women but also for doffing a hat to the emerging female leadership of the community, one that openly rejects the existing regressive patriarchal controls. It is this that makes women like Zakia icons of progress.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 3:08:55 AM |

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