Triple talaq row: 51 years on, Hamid Dalwai's movement for Muslim women's rights continues

Fifty-one years after their historic first march against triple talaq highlighted the need to abolish the regressive practice, the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal is set to organise a symbolic recreation in Pune on Tuesday. Demanding justice and equal rights for Muslim women, the Mandal is appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to scrap triple talaq.

Mehrunissa Dalwai, 86, was present at that first march and has seen half-a-century and countless governments go by without any legal respite. Mehrunissa, her husband Hamid Dalwai – the organiser of the movement – along with six other women had marched down to the Mantralaya in Mumbai to protest against triple talaq, polygamy and halala.

"I was 35-years-old and pregnant with my second child" recalls Mehrunissa. "We met the then Maharashtra chief minister Vasantrao Naik and handed over our memorandum of demands. Our demands were simple, yet complicated at the same time. We demanded that triple talaq be abolished, uniform civil code (UCC) be implemented and polygamy be banned"

This march towards the Mantralaya, held on 18 April, 1966, marked the first steps taken towards safeguarding Muslim women’s rights and was the beginning of the social justice movement against triple talaq.

"Because this was the first such march, we did not meet any opposition. But once the news spread, we started getting threats," Mehrunissa added.

File image of a meeting of the Muslim Mahila Parishad, where they discussed triple talaq. Image procured by author.

File image of a meeting of the Muslim Mahila Mandal. Image procured by author.

Her husband Hamid, who spearheaded the movement, had a clear idea about the path ahead. "After the march, he kept trying to gather support for almost two years. But it was only on 22 March, 1970, that his attempts led to the formation of the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal," said Sayyadbhai, a noted social activist, who had worked with Hamid since the inception of the Mandal."Its first meeting was held in Pune in a hope to gather support."

"Hamid invited stalwarts from the Muslim community. With their support, it became difficult for religious groups to protest against the movement," recalls Abdul Kadar Mukadam, an activist.

Hamid's protest march led to the formation of the Mandal, which then paved the way for social reforms."We started organising conferences in various parts of the country. Sometimes the gatherings used to be small, like just 25 people. At times, the number went up to 100. Hamid used to speak about 'the cause' at every gathering. Word started to spread, leading to opposition from several religious organisations. People used to protest at our meetings. They used to say let’s finish their work by finishing them. But these threats never deterred Hamid" added Sayyedbhai.

"And then, the Shah Bano case happened. We met the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, seeking justice for Bano. But our plea was unheard," he added.

Hamid started organising conferences at various places to gather support for Bano. But people were angry. "While touring the state, people would pelt stones at us. Once the bus we were travelling in was vandalised. We had to turn back from the tour... it was a horrible experience," Mehrunissa said.

Then, on 3 May, 1977, Hamid passed away due to kidney failure. But his fight and the Mandal's push for equal rights was far from over. "When he died, people used to say the Mandal is history now. But we continued to work and it is going strong even today. This is the perfect response to the protesters... our supporters have only increased," Sayyadbhai added.

File image of the All India Conference of Forward Looking Muslims, where triple talaq was discussed, 1971. Image procured by author,

File image of the All India Conference of Forward Looking Muslims, 1971. Image procured by author,

Half a century later, has anything changed?

The situation has become even more grim, if you ask Sadiya Khan. Sadiya got married on 29 April, 2016, and within two months of her marriage, her husband and in-laws started harassing her. They were angry because she did not bring any steel utensils as dowry, and brought copper ones instead.

"They used to harass me every day. In July 2016, I went to my maternal home. My husband informed me that the doors to his house were closed for me forever. It was only after our families intervened that he agreed to take me back. After a few days passed, he came to know that I was two months pregnant. He made me drink shampoo, which resulted in an abortion." alleged Sadiya.

"I was hospitalised for a while after which my family members were told to take me to their home for rest. This was just a ruse... they wanted me out of their house. Within a few days, I received a text message on WhatsApp of talaq. How can a talaq happen over WhatsApp? I did not agree to it and filed a police case. The matter is sub-judice now,"

"Now he says that he wants to remarry me but wants me to go through the halala process. In halala, I have to marry another man and spend a night with him. After that, if he agrees to divorce me, I can go back to my husband and remarry. Why should I suffer? Is this legal?" asks Sadiya. "I do not want to go back to their house again."

While Sadiya is fighting triple talaq, Samina Shaikh has to fight against polygamy. After almost 16 years of marriage, her husband left her and married some other woman. He said that since she could not fulfil their demand for a dowry of Rs four lakh, he doesn't want to be with her. They have three kids. After Samina refused to leave, he moved to a different house with his second wife. After Samina pressed charges, she was promised an alimony of Rs 9,000 per month." But I have to struggle to get that amount. They want me to leave and hence are troubling me in every possible way. They disconnect the water supply at times. Or start the connection in the middle of the night so that I will have to wake up to fill up water. But I am not going to give up. Why should I leave?

"I have to struggle to get that amount. They want me to leave and are troubling me in every possible way. They disconnect the water supply at times or start the connection in the middle of the night, just so that I will have to wake up to fill water. But I am not going to give up. Why should I leave?" Samina said.

Sadiya Khan and Samina Shaikh have been victims of triple talaq. Firstpost/Prachee Kulkarni

Samina Shaikh (left) and Sadiya Khan. Firstpost/Prachee Kulkarni

Modi, speaking at BJP's National Executive meet in Bhubaneswar, said that Muslim women deserved social justice and pressed for the abolition of triple talaq. This was seen as a positive step and reflected the unequivocal stand taken by the Centre on the issue of triple talaq.

"But this is not the first time that a government has made such a statement," claimed Shamshuddin Tamboli, present chairman of the Mandal. "After Shah Bano, there were cases of Shabana Bano and Shaira Bano. Shaira's case is yet to reach its conclusion. The Muslim personal law board (AIMPLB) says that it is against triple talaq but also opposes any legal move for its abolition. They are demanding social boycott instead. Is this the way? Social boycott will only worsen the situation."

"Since Hamid's march, we have been demanding that the law be changed. But, none of the governments till date have shown the willpower. The courts have time and again directed the government on this, but they have not taken a step forward. If the law changes, everything will change. Our demand for implementation of uniform civil code is of prime importance," said activist Anwar Rajan.

But despite all this, Mehrunissa is hopeful that change will come. "Though none of our demands since our first march have been met, every move, every protest, every case is a step forward… this is how social reform works. We cannot expect it to happen overnight. It will take time and we will keep fighting for justice."

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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2017 12:10:40 IST

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