By Rupam Jain
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Shayara Bano breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday after her small Indian state passed a law banning polygamy, the culmination of years of efforts, including her own case in the country’s Supreme Court.
“Now I can say that my battle against the age-old Islamic rules of marriage and divorce is won,” said Bano, a Muslim woman whose husband decided to have two wives and divorced her by pronouncing talaq three times.
“Islam has allowed men to have two or more wives at the same time,” she told Reuters.
But Sadaf Jafar did not support the new law, which would outlaw practices such as polygamy and instant divorce, even as she waged her own legal battle against her husband for marrying another woman without her consent.
“Polygamy is allowed in Islam with strict rules and regulations, but it is abused,” said Jafar, who is seeking child support for her two children. She says she did not consult Islamic scholars because she hoped Indian courts would deliver justice.
The enactment of the Uniform Civil Code in Uttarakhand state has opened up a gulf between women who belong to India’s largest religious minority, even among those whose lives have been ruined when their husbands marry polygamously.
Some, like activist Bano, 49, hail the new provisions as a belated assertion of secular law over parallel Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and inheritance. For those like Jafar, Muslim politicians and Islamic scholars, it is an unwelcome ploy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party.
Passage of the code in Uttarakhand is expected to pave the way for other states ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to follow suit, amid fierce opposition from some leaders of the 200 million Muslims who make India the world’s third-largest Muslim country. .
RIGHTS IN A POLYRELIGIOUS SOCIETY
BJP leaders said the new code was a major reform based on India’s 1950 constitution, which aims to modernize the country’s Muslim personal laws and guarantee full equality for women.
A 2013 survey found that 91.7% of Muslim women across the country believe that a Muslim man should not be allowed to have another wife while he is married to his first.
Still, many Muslims accuse Modi’s party of pursuing Hindu policies that discriminate against them and impose laws that hinder Islam. Sharia law allows Muslim men to have up to four wives and does not contain strict rules prohibiting minors from marrying.
Jafar, who ran for office from the main opposition Congress party, calls the passage of the code a tactic by the Modi government to cast Islam in a bad light and divert attention from pressing issues such as improving Muslim living standards.
In 2017, the Supreme Court declared Islamic instant divorce unconstitutional, but the decree did not ban polygamy or other practices that critics say violate women’s equal rights.
In addition to banning polygamy, the new code establishes a minimum marriage age for both sexes and guarantees equal shares of inheritance to adopted children, children born out of wedlock, and children conceived by surrogates.
While BJP leaders and women’s rights activists say the code aims to end regressive practices, some Muslim politicians say it violates the fundamental right to practice religion.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Council called the code impractical and a direct threat to India’s multi-faith society.
“Banning polygamy makes no sense because data shows that very few Muslim men have more than one wife in India,” SQR board spokesman Ilyas said, adding that the government had no right to question Sharia law.
Jafar, who lives with her two children in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said: “Islam has enough provisions to ensure a dignified life. We don’t need (the code), but we need speedy justice for women who are fighting for their dignity.”
(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by William Mallard)