The Muslims: A community in turmoil

first_imgAs most complex communal controversies do, it started out as a mere trifle. Tucked away in the Byzantine confines of the old, princely city of Indore, there lives a 73-year-old called Shah Bano. Ten years ago when her prosperous lawyer husband divorced her in the traditional Muslim way after 43,As most complex communal controversies do, it started out as a mere trifle. Tucked away in the Byzantine confines of the old, princely city of Indore, there lives a 73-year-old called Shah Bano. Ten years ago when her prosperous lawyer husband  divorced her in the traditional Muslim way after 43 years of marriage, she did a most unusual thing: she went to court seeking a small maintenance to feed herself. Today, she is making history. Her search for a small sustenance has led to an unprecedented Islamic resurgence not seen in the country for decades. It has rendered the Muslims a troubled, tormented community, torn by a serious internal schism between the vocal fundamentalists and the subdued but determined liberal minority. More vitally, it threatens to upset the very electoral equation on which the arithmetic of national political fortunes has been based since Independence.Not since the pork and the beef fat smeared cartridges caused the great upheaval of 1857 has a single non-political act caused so much trauma, fear and indignation among a community. Claiming that the Supreme Court judgement granting Shah Bano Rs 500 a month as maintenance from her husband was a sacrilege because it amounted to interference in the Shariat law, ulemas successfully raised the cry of “Islam in danger”. Charged, Muslims came out in lakhs–as many as half-a-million in one instance in Bombay–across the face of the country chanting the slogan of “Shariat bachao”.Pro-sharia rallies in Calicut”For the Muslims today, the imminent danger is to their culture and identity rather than to their lives and property,” said Maulana Abul Lais, Emir of the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind, summing up the new fear campaign. And if communal Muslim organisations protested in many parts of the country by burning effigies of former Supreme Court chief justice Y.V. Chandrachud, the main author of the controversial judgement, the zealots of Hindu Mahasabha retaliated by handing out the same treatment to the effigies of Maulana Ziaur Rahman Ansari, Union minister of state for environment, who leads the fundamentalist pressure group within the Congress(I).Nothing else, the recurring tragedy of communal riots, nor the trauma of economic deprivation or the travails brought upon Muslim job-seekers on account of discrimination, had ever caused such turbulence before. From the miserly shikara-owner in Srinagar to the prosperous Gulf-returnee in Mallapuram in north Kerala, from the harried Bengali-speaking immigrant peasant in Assam to the insular Memon in Kutch, the controversy has cut into the innermost core of the Muslim religious identity. In the wellsprings of their minority psyche, it strengthens the community’s feeling of persecution at the hands of a majority which, many of them believe, regards them as ungrateful, unpatriotic, disloyal and bigoted.advertisementPatna: nation-wide conflictComing shortly on the heels of the controversy about a case in Calcutta High Court seeking a ban on the Quran (INDIA TODAY, May 31,1985) the controversy found a sullen, insecure mood which was further exacerbated in August last year with the signing of the Assam accord. Widely considered to be a political concession made at the cost of the immigrant Muslims. Even deep in the country side the controversy has aroused extremely angry sentiments. “No Muslim will tolerate this assault. This case will create feelings within our community like those of Punjab and Assam,” warns 35-year-old Nawab Mian, a petty lumber trader in Badayun in western Uttar Pradesh and adds angrily: “The rumour mill has been so busy after this case that people of our community will even believe that the next the Hindu Ram rath procession will occupy Badayun’s Jama Masjid.”Similar suspicions work even on the minds of many Muslim intellectuals. Says Dr Sharifunnisa Ansari, professor and head of the department of Persian studies at Hyderabad’s Osmania University: “I have travelled to more than 10 countries mainly in the Arab world and discovered that no self-respecting woman receives money from the man who divorced her. The Shariat is clear about this and according to some rumours Shah Bano was taken to court by interested Hindus who want a uniform civil code in the country.” Indignant echoes came also from the countryside. “Once we are divorced and the man has met his obligations of mehr, he becomes ghair (a stranger) for us. We have to observe purdah from him and his money is haram,” says Feroze Jahanara Begum, a schoolteacher of Kasganj in Uttar Pradesh. But even angrier assertion comes from her colleague Rehana Khatun who says: “We will resist this decision even if that means we have to become shaheeds (martyrs).”The feeling is summed up by Dr Taher Mehmood, a faculty member of Delhi University and one of the foremost authorities on Muslim history and law in India. He says: “If you look at it from the eyes of the Muslim he is saying: You have already taken away everything else that was so valuable to my faith. Now I will not let you take away the last of my valuable possessions. My personal law.” Rightly or wrongly, the controversy has lacerated old wounds besides causing a new, all-consuming fury of hurt, fear and aggression, a mix any politician in search of a communal constituency would grab with both hands.advertisementAnd there was no stopping this inevitability with fundamentalist ulemas and politicians merrily orchestrating a campaign that played on insecurities, old and new, and put a majority of the 7.5 crore Muslims, who constitute 11.35 per cent of India’s population, firmly on the route to fundamentalism. The campaign was expectedly stronger in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have large concentrations of Muslim population. At Lucknow last week, Maulana Obaidullah Khan  the founder of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Conference, threatened to launch an agitation for return to Shariat law. This, he said, would include a satyagraha by 313 of his followers before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly-the figure reminiscent of the hijrat (migration) of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina along with 313 followers. The trend worries some Muslims. “Every small-town maulana has become a leader now with narrow objectives and narrow interest. If the controversy is not resolved quickly these people will take the community behind by two to three decades,” says Shahid Siddiqui. editor of leading Urdu weekly Nai Duniya, underlining the threat of the new spate of fundamentalism.The leaders in the forefront of the campaign are, on the other hand, self-righteous. “Ours is not a communal fight. It only amounts to resisting the inexorable process of assimilation. We want to keep our religious identity at all costs,” says Janata Party Lok Sabha member Syed Shahabuddin, flush with his 70,000-vote victory in the by-election at Kishanganj in north Bihar last month.Exactly a year ago, Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress(I) had won the Kishanganj constituency, which spreads along the Indo Bangladesh border and has a large number of Bengali-speaking Muslim peasants, by a formidable margin of over 1.3 lakh votes. But in their new mood the Muslims had neither the time nor the inclination for the Congress(I) campaigners in spite of the fact that the party’s candidate was the general secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, a religious organisation. Over 200 ulemas brought in by the party from all over the country were physically thrown out of the constituency and its campaigners hooted all over the backward constituency. Said Dr Abdul Moghani, president of the Urdu development organisation, Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu, Bihar: “It was not a vote for Shahabuddin, it was a vote for Shariat.”Shahabuddin himself is effusive: “This petty little election of mine really amounted to breaking a bund. For the first time our people were now saying, we are there with them on equal terms, electing our own people.” To emphasise his point, he adds: “The last round of election shows that the humpty-dumpty of the Congress(I)’s Muslim vote banks has come crashing down and never again can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put it back there again.”advertisementAcross the country, from Assam in the east to Baroda in the west, Congressmen were complaining bitterly of the loss of their most valued vote banks. The evidence of what lay behind the debacle came out transparently in election results. For example:- In Assam, the newly constituted United Minorities Front (UMF) grabbed 18 Assembly seats. Practically each one of these constituencies has a Muslim majority. All over the state the UMF campaigners made just two points: the threat to immigrant Muslims from the Assam accord and the threat to the Muslim identity all over the country from the Shah Bano case judgement. – In the Sayajiganj assembly election in Baroda, former police commissioner Jaspal Singh defeated the Congress(I) candidate by 8,365 votes. Gujarat Chief Minister Amarsinh Chaudhry attributes defeat entirely to the loss of the sizeable Muslim vote in the constituency. Singh had incidentally resigned from the police force under a cloud with the Muslims of the city accusing him of pro-Hindu communalism.- In Bijnore, which has an estimated 1.6 lakh Muslim vote, Meera Kumar of the Congress(I) just scraped through but failed to get the Muslim vote. Of the 1,22,000 votes of Lok Dal’s Ram Vilas Paswan, a credible estimate has it that around a lakh came from the Muslims.- In Kendrapara in Orissa Chief Minister J.B. Patnaik claimed that the party’s margin of defeat went up because the constituency’s 10 per cent Muslim vote deserted the party.- Even in Bolpur, West Bengal, where Siddhartha Shankar Ray lost to the CPI(M) by 40,000 votes more than the margin of the Congress(I) defeat in December 1984. PCC(I) chief Priya Ranjan Das Munshi claimed that the party got less than half of the Muslim vote it had bagged in December1 1984. Some of this could be exaggeration, a case of the party’s state leaders squealing, trying to camouflage their own failure in winning the elections. But even at the highest levels in the party now there was intense concern I’ at this electoral atrophy and it found an echo at the centenary celebrations in Bombay where Mufti Mohammed Syed, chief of the party’s Jammu and Kashmir unit, went to the extent of saying: “People are saying we have become a party of the north Indian Hindus.”Similar signals were reaching the prime minister from many other sources. Even before the elections Maulana Asad Madani, president of Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind and the Congress(I)’s key Muslim campaigner had written a strong letter to the prime minister pointing out how upset the Muslims were with the party.In the elections he campaigned at Kishanganj but invariably described the Congress(I) candidate as the Jamiat nominee. A stream of the Congress(I) Muslim nominees called on him to say how imperative it was for the party to win back its Muslim support and a direct consequence of the pressures was that the Government seemed inclined to appease the fundamentalists. “After Assam and the by-elections, the prime minister is acutely aware of the albatross he carries round his neck in the form of the Muslim Personal Law controversy. The party can hardly afford this kind of erosion,” said a Muslim leader of the Congress(I) shortly after a long meeting with the prime minister. Not surprisingly the controversy has led to serious differences of opinion within-the party with leaders ranging against or behind the judgement. So sharp is the cutting edge of the controversy that it has even caused dissensions within the BJP which has always been identified with the Hindu interest and aspirations. At its Chandigarh session last fortnight the party passed a resolution in favour of the judgement and immediately drew protests from its miniscule section of Muslim representatives. As BJP President Atal Behari Vajpayee admitted: “Muslims from our own party came to me and said why have we passed such a resolution. They want us to support the demand for the amendment to the law so that in future Muslim women cannot approach courts for maintenance. I told them there is no way we can support such an amendment. If they want they can issue a religious edict asking their divorced women not to move courts.” The other political parties were watching the scene in relative quiet, the Janata Party and the Lok Dal in anticipation of the Muslim vote, alienated from the Congress(I) for the moment spilling over to their sides and the Marxists, the only political party to have taken an unambiguous stand in favour of the judgement playing at best from the sidelines. But much more than shaking up the political arithmetic in the country, the controversy has led to an acrimonious debate within the Muslims. The fundamentalists say that in Islam there is no concept of kanyadan or dowry. All that the divorced woman is entitled to get from her husband is her mehr, the dower which is integral part of the Muslim marriage. Thus the moment a woman gets divorced her parents, brothers and sons become responsible for her maintenance.”In Islam marriage is not a sacrament, it is a contract. We have no taking vows round the fire, no business of till-death-do us-part and no kanyadan. The husband’s responsibility ends the moment the contract is terminated by divorce after the payment of mehr,” says Najma Heptullah, deputy chairperson of Rajya Sabha and granddaughter of the late Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Justifying the Shariat concept that sustenance for a destitute divorced woman should come from her blood relations. she asks: “Tell me which relation is more important, one that is purely contractual or the one of blood’?” The fundamentalist argument is that doubts are raised regarding Muslim Personal Law only because of the “misconception” that it is loaded against women, making divorce as easy for men as uttering the word talaq thrice. Explains Maulana Mohammed Salim Saheb Qasim, Muhtamim (rector) of Darul llloom, the world famous school of Islamic studies at Deoband near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh: “For us talaq is the last resort when all other efforts fail. It is a final solution, a breaking of bonds.” Making a similar assertion says Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, head of the Muslim Personal Law Board at Nadwat-ul-Ulema in Lucknow, adding that in our religion, “zehar dena asan hai. talaq na mushkil hai” (it is easier to poison the wife than to divorce her).The liberals do not question this per se. But they argue that the laws given 14 centuries back must change with the times and that, by itself, should amount to no sacrilege or blasphemy. “When a woman is getting married, divorce is about the last thing on her mind. That leaves mehr a mere formality and further, when a woman is divorced and thrown out by her own husband, it is absurd and ludicrous to expect her to fight a legal battle against her own father for maintenance,” reasons Zoya Hassan, a reader in political science in Jawaharlal Nehru University and one of the active campaigners for reform and codification of the Muslim Personal Law. Hassan and a whole bunch of other progressive, educated Muslim women in Delhi point out that it is an erroneous belief that the majority of Muslims,  particularly women. are with the ulemas on the issue of maintenance. It is just that a lot among the vulnerable majority in the villages feel too intimidated speak out. This was also observed by INDIA TODAY correspondents who travelled extensively through large tracts of Muslim-dominated areas of the country. There was plenty of silent support for Shah Bano but only occasional, open expression such as that of Zaira Khatoon, a village housewife from Manikpur in Badayun district. “It is all very well the mullahs to talk,” she said. “But when a poor girl gets divorced, who is going to feed her, especially if her relatives are themselves poor?”The Liberal point of view is that the Prophet was himself extremely progressive on subjects relating to women but since religious scriptures often provide only the basic framework it becomes necessary for the Government to legislate from time to time.”Religion is always taught in parables and thus it becomes necessary to supplement this with social legislation,” says Union Minister of State for Energy Arif Mohammed Khan (see interview), explaining why modernisation of the personal law is no sacrilege when it does not clash with the basic diktats of the Prophet.They also point out that the Muslim Personal Law is based on more than just the Quran. Islamic scholars point out that there are four known sources of personal law, including the Quran. The others are: sunna (practice and explanation from the Prophet), ijma (consensus of the learned) and qiyas (analogies), the last two not being as sacrosanct as the Quran. Moreover even Ghulam Mahamood Banatwala, general secretary of Indian Union Muslim League, has admitted in the Lok Sabha that there are seven distinct schools of Islamic law, Hanafi, Shafei, Malki, Hambali, Ithna Ashari, Ismaili and Zaidi. These do not interpret Muslim Personal Law uniformly. The consequence is that while it may be indiscreet to even talk in terms of changing what the Quran says the other aspects of Muslim Personal Law could evolve with the times within the basic Islamic framework.The liberals also say that the fundamentalists complain too much and in India they even tend to be too sensitive since Muslim thinkers have accepted change to keep pace with the times all over the world. “Mullahs opposing the judgement on Muslim Personal Law are hypocrites.” says Syed Mohammed Najmuddin, a Patna-based business executive and a former soccer star. He points out that in the 19th century the mullahs had accepted without demur the abolition of the Islamic Personal Law to impose a common penal code all over the country. for all communities. “Did that too not amount to interference in the Shariat?” he asks.This inconvenient fact, of the Muslim law having undergone change through the decades. is not denied even by an extreme right-wing  fundamentalist organisation like Jamaat-e-lslami, which lives in the heady nostalgia of the Mughal period, when Islamic law was the law of the land, and admits as much. It is true that initially even the British judges sought assistance liberally from the Muslim qazis in writing judgements in the Indian courts. but slowly English laws were ushered in and the Indian Penal Code enacted in 1862. At the same time the Muslims were allowed to be governed by their traditional laws on personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and gifts. Even so, this was not made part of the statute book, and the ambiguity frequently led to trouble.Muslim scholars often protested against court judgements and this finally led to the enactment of the Muslim Personal (Shariat) Application Act in 1937. The law said that in cases relatine to marriage, mehr, maintainance, divorce, judicial separation, guardianship, gift, succession and waqf, where contending parties were Muslims, the decisions would be based on the Shariat. Two years later the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act was passed. according to which a Muslim woman seeking divorce can move court.All along the decades, while this change was made in consultation with the ulemas, one problem stood out. While every new law was based on the Shariat, no effort was made to codify this divine Muslim law. In the absence of a firmly stated Shariat law, it was open to various interpretations depending on the predilections of the various schools of thought, causing enormous confusion. This further underlines the need today for codifying Muslim Personal Law, a demand liberals within the community have often made They find it hard to understand why the fundamentalists react so violently to the very suggestion of a change in the light of this history. “Every law needs to keep pace with the times and this applies even more to something like the Muslim Personal Law which, even to begin with, was rather liberal for its times. The Prophet was extremely conscious of the need for the uplift of women,” says Zoya Hassan. Besides, a large number of Islamic countries have already passed Muslim personal laws with certain changes in the eighth century invocations.Says a report of the National Commission on Women: “Most Muslim countries such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Indonesia and Pakistan have introduced reforms of varying degrees to correct the abuse of polygamy but no legislative measures have been taken so far in India to ameliorate the hardship caused to Muslim women by the institution of polygamy.” Pakistan is an important example. For 14 years after Partition, the Pakistan Government followed the laws passed by the British in the ’30s but significant reformist changes were brought about in 1961. These include:The repealing of the Shariat Applications Act of 1937 to be replaced by Muslim Family Laws Ordinance; and.The replacement of the Dissolution of Marriage Act of 1939 by another progressive ordinance.The new Pakistani laws mark a significant departure from the tradition. For example, there is a virtual bar on polygamy with the legal requirement to register each marriage and the need for permission from an official arbitration council for taking a second wife. Contravention of these provisions is a penal offence. Similarly for divorce, the spouses have to approach the arbitration council. Substantial changes were also brought about on the law of succession, making nonsense of the Indian fundamentalists’ claim that the changes abroad have touched just the procedure and not substance of the Shariat.But all this evidence fails to impress a majority of the Indian Muslim scholars and fundamentalist leadership. To begin with, the change in British times is dismissed as coercion. Says Amir-e-Shariat Minatullah Rehmani, head of Imarat Sharia, one of the most significant Islamic institutions in the country: “The British rulers brought about the change in Islamic Personal Law and enforced it with a position of strength after the 1857 revolt when the Muslim morale was shattered.”Similarly in a series of discussions with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Muslim leaders and thinkers have refused to even take cognizance of the changes brought about in the other Islamic countries. “I do not understand what do you mean by that.” says Ahmed Ali Qasmi, general secretary of All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mashawrat, a quasi-political religious organisation led by Syed Shahabuddin, adding: “We are Indians. How can we draw parallels with the other Islamic countries? Our reference can only be to the Quran and had is and not to what other dictators have done in their countries.” Says Dr Taher Mehmood, whom the prime minister has been consulting often in the recent past: “Mr Gandhi raised the same issue with me. But I told him we should not look at what has happened to Muslim Personal Law in other Muslim countries. We should examine what has been done in Muslim minority countries such as the Philippines and Thailand or what has happened to the law of the minorities such as Jews and Christians in Islamic countries.”Interestingly, however, barring the extremely fundamentalist groups such as Jamaat-e-Islami. hardly any of the Muslims protesting against the Shah Bano judgement takes a selectively fundamentalist line, demanding the application of the Shariat in its most undiluted. unadulterated form on the personal law while keeping it out of criminal law.”These mullahs hate women and twist the Shariatin such a way that itworks totheir advantage. Why don’t they also want the application of Shariat criminal law so men could die for adultery or get their limbs amputated for thefts?” asked a graduate student at Jamia Millia. Adds Faizan Ahmed. 22, editor of Patna-based Urdu daily Azimabad Express: “The mullahs areonly doing business in the name of the faith by seeking a return to roots on the personal law while sticking to the modern criminal law which also, following their own logic, amounts to violation of the Shariat.” Of all the liberal arguments, this is by far the hardest for the fundamentalists to rebut. And they do it speciously. Says Shahabuddin: “The difference is that Islamic criminal law can only be applied by an Islamic state.” Besides the contentious discussion on what really constitutes Islamic personal law and whether it can be modified or changed to keep pace with the times, the Shah Bano case has also brought the role of the judiciary in sharp focus. Much of the Muslim ire has been directed not so much at the decision as at the manner in which the judgement was drafted. “In two cases in the past Justice Krishna lyer granted maintenance to divorced Muslim women without raising so much noise. Here what upset some people was the unnecessary gratuitous advice contained in the judgement.” says Minorities Commission Chairman and former Supreme Court judge Mirza Hameedullah Beg. “The Supreme Court is no judge of expediency,” he says but adds that there was no sacrilege involved in what the court did. The reaction has been so severe because the “thinking process is always suspended whenever an issue concerning three things-Aligarh Muslim University, Urdu and Muslim Personal Law comes up.”In legal circles there is serious concern at the open, no-holds-barred campaign against the judgement and former chief justice Chandrachud who presided over the bench. Chandrachud himself defends the judgement stoutly denying that he meant any disrespect to Islam. He says: “The court has the right to analyse any personal law, and analysis is not sacrilege.”The fundamentalists’ most populistic casus belli is the court’s exhortation to the Government to enact a uniform personal law all over the country as enshrined in Article 44 of the Constitution. Ever since the hoary days of 1946 when the debates of the constituent Assembly began, this article has been the Muslim leaders’ bete noire. They suspect that it will impinge on the Islamic way of life (see box). “This provision for a uniform civil code is the root cause of all the evil and tirade against the Muslims in our country,” says Maulana AbuI Lais of Jamaat-e-Islami echoing the fundamentalist fears due to the judgement. For the ulemas it is easy to play on this fear in spite of the repeated denials by Congress(I) leaders that the party is planning move towards a uniform civil code in a hurry till the country is ready for it and a consensus exists in its favour among all communities.The Prime Minister has been doing a bit of research himself. Over the past month-and-a-half he has met a series of deputations from both the fundamentalists and the liberals, and seems keen to sue for peace. He told a women’s delegation on November 21 that he felt discouraged by the kind of attitude his party’s Muslims, particularly women, have adopted on the issue.He is reported to have told the women’s delegation that they whispered one thing in his ear but said something else publicly. He also cautioned them not to have western perceptions while talking about equality between the sexes. But he disappointed them too, by saying that he was prepared to bring about a change in the law to clear the air.At one stage the prime minister is reported to have even suggested that under the new, codified draft of Muslim Personal Law. the Government could legally make the divorced woman’s blood relations responsible for her maintenance. And where that was not possible, the responsibility could be passed on to Muslim society at large through the waqf boards or even on organisations funded by the Government. This drew firm protests from Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs Sports and Women. Margaret Alva, who was present at the meeting and promptly asked what. In that case, would the Government do for divorcee women of the other faiths?The prime minister’s defensive approach however, was an indirect admission of the fact that he has been under pressure from his own partymen to make a concession before it was too late and ulemas were able to swing the Muslim electorate away decisively from the Congress(I). The Muslim clergy has been threatening that if its demands are not conceded, it will influence Muslim voters to do a repeat of 1977 when they voted en bloc against the Congress. For the ruling party that is a worrisome scenario. While it is true that in Lok Sabha the Muslim vote can by itself win no more than 50 seats, it is also true that it can tilt the scales decisively in about a hundred more. Besides, in most of the five states, including Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam, no national party canexpect to grab power without a reasonable chunk of the Muslim vote.Congress(I) leaders are wary of this possibility even though at the moment no other political party seems to be in a position to take advantage. There is a distinct possibility that a new Muslim party on the lines of the UMF in Assam may come up at the national level. Another likely contender for the Muslim vote will be a possible Lok Dal-Janata alliance in the post-Charan Singh era. It was due to this realisation last month that Union Law Minister Asoke Sen met many Muslim clergy men and jurists at the house of Najma Heptullah to work out a truce. The clergymen have already submitted their proposals on the kind of amendment they want made to the existing law (see box).At the same time the liberals ore also in the process of submitting their list of proposals and a progressive Muslim organisation in Delhi is collecting signatures from leading Muslim intellectuals on a memorandum seeking a modern interpretation and codification of the Muslim Personal Law. For the liberals. particularly women, the stakes are high. The prime minister has already suggested a debate on the codification of Muslim Personal Law just as the Hindu personal law was put on the statute book as Hindu Code Bill in the ’50s. As in the case of the Hindu Code Bill, the debate on the codification of Muslim Personal Law is bound to be acrimonious with the midway point too far for both fundamentalists and liberals.Codification, in any case, will be a long-drawn process. But on the current controversy it seems likely that the Government will capitulate, going two steps backwards by amending Section 125 of the CRPC and making it virtually impossible for divorced Muslim women to seek succour from the courts. But making concessions under political coercion is not such a good policy. lt will increase the clamour for abrogation of Article44 of the Constitution which lies at the root of the Muslim fundamentalist fear of the very suggestion of a uniform personal law.Even so, the controversy is serving a useful purpose, of generating debate, within the community on the need for change and reform. But the process will be slow and bumpy, particularly in the case of a dogmatic faith where the Prophet’s word is considered an absolute instruction. As Dr Kausar Azam, reader in political science at Osmania University, says: “The absence of a Mahatma Gandhi or a Raja Ram Mohan Roy among the Muslims has slowed social reform in the community and those interested and working on social reform like Hamid Dalwai died young.The solution will have to be found by the Muslims themselves.” As of now, that solution seems hard to find. But if the current debate leads even a few steps closer to that it would be thanks to the toil and tenacity of that 73-year-old divorcee from Indore.-Shekhar Gupta wlth Farzand Ahmed and Inderjit Badhwarlast_img read more