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"We will make our own nikahnama"

Saturday 7 May 2005

Special Correspondent

Differing takes on model draft; "we women want to fight for our rights"

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Vivek Bendre
TeaRinG up: Muskan of the Muslim Women’s Rights Network tearing a copy of the model nikahnama of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board at a press conference in Mumbai on Friday.

MUMBAI: With a dramatic flourish, Muskaan tore the model nikahnama drafted by the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) in Bhopal last week. She was one of the dozens of Muslim women from several organisations in Mumbai who crowded into a press conference called by women’s groups here on Friday. What began as a sedate debate over the model nikahnama soon became a passionate argument about the rights of Muslim women. While the groups, ranging from ones representing only Muslim women to others who have dealt with violence against women in general, spoke in different voices about the nikahnama and its significance, the Muslim women present at the press conference were unanimous.

"We don’t accept this document because it treats women as second class citizens," said Muskaan, who works with Hukku-ke-niswan, an organisation of Muslim women working in different slums across Mumbai.

With only her eyes showing through her headscarf, 30-year-old Shamim interrupted the proceedings. "I want to leave my husband but despite begging for a divorce for the last four years, he will not give it," she shouted.

Later, speaking to The Hindu, Shamim said she had been married 12 years, had two children, a husband who did not work and who would not allow her to work. She had to borrow money from her parents to feed her children and put them throughschool. Four years ago she decided to leave her husband but he refused to give her a divorce. And she does not know what to do.

Other women shouted after her. Said one, "These people have never been to our homes, do not know our lives, then how can they make rules for us. We will make our own nikahnama. We women want to fight for our rights."


The Muslim Women’s Rights Network, the Forum Against Oppression of Women and Awaz-e-Niswan held similar views on the model nikahnama. They said they were disappointed that the document had not outlawed triple talaq, it had not insisted that "mehr", the amount pledged to a bride by the husband at the time of marriage, be given immediately instead of being deferred and that it made no reference to the age of the woman at the time of marriage.

`Positive step’

Majlis,which deals with women’s legal problems, took a different line. Advocate Veena Gowda, who practises in a family court, said the model nikahnama was a "positive step towards giving women some rights". The fact that the AIMPLB had come up with such a document suggested it was willing to listen to women and it accepted that women’s rights could be negotiated. In any case the AIMPLB could not make laws and at most it could indicate the direction towards which the community must go.

"At least, the board has recognised that there should be arbitration and that triple talaq should not be encouraged."

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