India’s first female sharia court judges have been trained and certified by the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a Muslim women’s rights group, in a pioneering move to fight for the rights of Muslim women and girls in India
India’s first female sharia court judges have been trained and certified by the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), a Muslim women’s rights group, in a pioneering move to fight for the rights of Muslim women and girls in India.
The inaugural class trained 15 women as qazis, judges or arbitrators in Islamic family courts, who all work at BMMA and graduated in April 2017 to take on their new role.
The organisation runs training sessions for the empowerment of women and girls, holds support groups for men and boys, and heads family dispute arbitration sessions.
The qazis trained for 3 years, studying the Quran and national constitution, Islam, women’s rights and Indian law.
Family members come to the BMMA to talk about problems including violence, the price of a bride, marriage and divorce, which the female qazis oversee and offer advice on a resolution.
Family issues are usually decided by male clerics and judges in India’s Islamic courts, a tradition representative of the wider lack of opportunities and rights women face in comparison to men.
In India, although citizens have equal rights under the constitution, personal family matters aren’t governed by a single, secular law but handled differently by separate religious groups.
There is, for example, a Hindu Marriage Act, a Muslim Personal Law, a Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, and so on.
Qazis, Islamic clerics and judges, all male before now, are the arbitrators of all marriage and divorce for India’s 172 million Muslim population as the widely accepted alternative to the legal courts in mediating family disputes.
But this attitude is slowly changing, with India’s Supreme Court in August 2017 outlawing the practice of triple talaq, a practice where Muslim men may say the Arabic word for “divorce”, “talaq”, three times to their wives to instigate a divorce, regardless of the reason, his wife’s circumstances or indeed her state of consciousness.
Men have previously divorced their wives through text message, in the middle of an argument, or even whilst they were sleeping, acts that the Indian parliament’s lower house voted to further criminalise in December 2017.
In Indian families and communities, restrictions for women and freedoms for men are an accepted reality, and issues such as domestic violence are treated as a private and almost inevitable part of life and marriage.
Co-founder of the BMMA and creater of the female qazi training programme, Noorjehan Safia Niaz, told Broadly that this vulnerability is a major reason to ensure women have more say in the arbitration of family disputes.
Whilst there has been a rise in activism on issues like education and livelihood in the country, she said, private family matters remain largely hidden and controlled by patriarchal traditions and assumptions.
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