The Indian courts find themselves unable to interpret laws that are decades old, including the Muslim personal law. Muslim girls over the age of 15 can marry; it would not violate the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, said the Punjab and Haryana High Court, citing Sharia law.
However, Kerala High Court said courts can’t rely on Muslim clerics with no legal training to decide matters. Courts are not obliged to follow an opinion given by a Muslim scholar. And even before that, the Karnataka High Court has ruled that Posco overrides Muslim personal law.
Abolish the Muslim personal law
These differences of opinion among the legal scholars in interpreting Muslim personal law and Sharia are creating a lot of friction in the society that could lead to disastrous results. The government is already mulling increasing the age of marriage for women to 21 years to bring it on par with men.
If the government enacts the same, it will further widen the age difference between the marriageable ages of Muslim girls and Hindu girls (according to the constitution, Hindu includes Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists — Indic religions).
The best call would be to abolish the Muslim personal law as well as the Muslim personal law board and bring parity in the legal status of the citizens. The goddess of justice has closed her eyes so that she cannot differentiate between people based on their religion, but the Indian judicial system has been doing the same for more than seven decades.
The successful triple talaq legislation has paved the way for government action against regressive practises and unequal laws solely based on religious sanctions. The concept of Muslim personal law is one such example of an unequal law contrary to the spirit of the Indian Constitution’s notion of equality under law. There are multiple issues where the law is different for the so-called minority community but is protected in the name of “Muslim personal law.”
Discriminatory Inheritance laws
Inheritance laws for Muslim women are another area where women are discriminated against with respect to men in Islam. In the event of the death of an ancestor, Muslim women are entitled to only half the share of the inheritance as compared to their male counterparts, which is not only discriminatory on the basis of gender but also puts Muslim women at a disadvantage when compared to their male siblings.
In cases of inheriting property from a deceased spouse, too, women are at a disadvantage. For instance, a wife takes 1/4th of the share in a case where the couple is without lineal descendants and a one-eighth share otherwise. A husband (in the case of succession to the wife’s estate) takes a 1/2 share in a case where the couple is without lineal descendants and a 1/4 share otherwise. Basically, here too, a man is entitled to a greater share of an inheritance in the event of an unfortunate event.
Liberty to Divorce and Alimony
Muslim women are only entitled to alimony during the period of iddat (nine months) during which the divorce is finalized, but there is no clear provision that provides a safety net for her after the ending of this iddat period. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has on various occasions held that Muslim women have the right to receive alimony after the iddat period.
Several practises like Nikah Halala also survive and desecrate the dignity of Muslim women till date and need to be discarded, similar to the practise of instant triple talaq. According to the practise in Muslim law, a Muslim man has the liberty to divorce and remarry the same woman twice. However, if for the third time the man wishes to divorce her and remarry, the woman can only be remarried to him if she marries another man, consummates the marriage, and that man dies or willingly asks for divorce; only then will she be married to her first husband. Several reports of Muslim women being sexually exploited under the garb of Nikah Halala have also surfaced.
As India progresses ahead and makes way for equal rights for women, free from pseudo-secular bias, these archaic practises call for major reforms and ultimately pave the way for the Uniform Civil Code to be implemented so that women from all the communities can enjoy the equal rights that the constitution has guaranteed them. The successful passage of the Triple Talaq legislation has given the right kind of impetus and set the tone for such reforms.
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