Followers of all religions at one point of time or the other, have trampled upon the rights of the women and have left her suppressed and oppressed. While it can be argued that no religion disrespects women, it is a fact that some religious leaders and followers of all hues have shut their eyes, ears and mouth when it came to protecting women’s rights. In such a case it became necessary for the laws of the land to come to the rescue of women. That is why most of the civilized countries of the world prefer to dispense justice based on laws of the respective countries, rather than fall upon religious books & scriptures to give justice.
In India, we have a very unique situation. We have so many religions, cults and customs that even enforcing any law becomes difficult. We neither follow the Hindu law completely, nor the Sharia, nor any of the religious scriptures of any other religion. But at the same time, we have not abandoned these scriptures completely either. The result is that when it suits the powers to be, the law of the land is used and when it comes to vote-bank politics, the laws of the scriptures are supported. In both these cases, invariably it is the woman who loses. Child marriage, widow remarriage, dowry, Sati, inheritance, anything – the woman is almost always the loser.
The Government of India and the Judiciary have tried many times to improve the status of the women in society and have outlawed many of the wrong practices. But by and large, these improvements have helped women of all other religions except Islam. This is because of two reasons:
• The level of literacy is more in the case of women from all other religions than Islam. Because of this women were able to speak out their mind and fight for their rights more vocally.
• Both, men and women, agreed that the laws had to protect women’s rights even if it differed from what was given in the religious scriptures.
The table below gives a fair idea of how women from Hindu (all Hindus incl. Sikhs & Jains) religion have had changes in their rights v/s Muslim women:
PROBLEM AREAS HINDU & OTHER ELIGION MUSLIMS
Child Marriage Now illegal Allowed after puberty
Dowry Now illegal Fixed as Mehr
Divorce Same for Men and Women Only Men can Divorce
Maintenance after Divorce Applicable After Shah Bano case
Polygamy Now illegal Men can marry 4 at a time
Temporary Marriage Illegal Only for Men
Widow remarriage Now Allowed Allowed
Sati Now illegal Not applicable
Inheritance Daughters Get Equal Share 1/3 of Father’s property
From the above, it is clear that although all religions have had reservations about giving equal rights and privileges to women, these hurdles have been overcome in all other religions than in Islam.
The question remains that if in case of criminal procedures, Muslims choose to abide by our laws of the land, then why in case of civil proceedings, they want to follow the Sharia. Archaic laws need to be repealed and one must heed the call of the times. It is time that women were allowed to come forward in society and lead their lives with equal respect in the eyes of the law. Our country had allowed women to vote as soon as it got Independance. (In USA, woman suffrage happened only in 1920, many years after they got Independance).
Our country had a woman Prime Minister when other developed nations had not even considered allowing women to stand for elections for that post. India has had a woman President when many other developing nations have not even achieved this distinction. Then why should India treat one daughter as different from another, just because she belongs to a different religion? It is high time Uniform Civil Code becomes a reality.