THE UN­DER­STATED head­quar­ters of Bharatiya Mus­lim Mahila An­dolan lo­cated in a non­de­script lane of a Mum­bai sub­urb host nu­mer­ous work­shops for the so­cially back­ward, lower in­come Mus­lim women. Its Founder, Noor­je­han Safia Niaz, has a sin­gle-point agenda – that of making them re­alise that they are en­ti­tled to all Fun­da­men­tal Rights as cit­i­zens of In­dia and the cler­ics have no right to dic­tate their lives. To drive the point home, the walls of her of­fice fea­ture dis­turb­ing statis­tics of re­gres­sive norms. “Nowhere in the Qu­ran is there any men­tion of triple ta­laq, polygamy or Halala. It is a com­plete mis­trans­la­tion and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Equal­ity and jus­tice are two ba­sic val­ues of Is­lam,” says Niaz.

Niaz had al­ways wanted to serve so­ci­ety, but in 1993, when she worked with the riot-hit Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in Mum­bai, she re­alised that her goal in life was to up­lift the women of her com­mu­nity. She came from an ed­u­cated and well-to-do fam­ily, and the ortho­dox prac­tices of triple ta­laq and polygamy came to her as a rude shock. Worse still, she came across women who had been sub­jected to uni­lat­eral di­vorce – mar­riages ter­mi­nated by their hus­bands with­out their con­sent and with­out valid rea­sons. “That is when I re­alised there is no cod­i­fied Mus­lim mar­riage law like the Hin­dus, Chris­tians and the Par­sis have,” she says. It was the gen­e­sis of her cru­sade against triple ta­laq, which cul­mi­nated with the Supreme Court rul­ing against the prac­tice. The Mus­lim Women (Pro­tec­tion of Rights on Mar­riage) Bill, 2017, was passed in the Lok Sabha but is pend­ing in the Ra­jya Sabha.

The run-up to the Bill was an ar­du­ous one. “The mo­ment we talked about cod­i­fi­ca­tion, we were told only cler­ics have the right to speak. Even the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments had said the same,” points out Niaz. It had taken her team around eight years to reach out to Mus­lim women for a con­sen­sus, based on which they re­leased a pub­lic doc­u­ment in 2014 that fea­tured their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Mus­lim mar­riage law, with­out any pro­vi­sion for polygamy and un­der­age mar­riage, Halala and triple ta­laq. The doc­u­ment also dis­cussed women’s in­her­i­tance rights. “Dur­ing Ra­madan last year, we did a cam­paign on Face­book and told peo­ple triple ta­laq sto­ries on all 30 days,” Niaz says.

She wants to con­tinue her cru­sade against so­cial dis­crim­i­na­tion of women in her com­mu­nity. “We have to get rid of so­cial evils and en­sure that women get their fun­da­men­tal rights.”

WHY SHE MAT­TERS Her fight against the re­pres­sive triple ta­laq could soon make the age- old prac­tice il­le­gal

PHO­TO­GRAPH BY RA­CHIT GOSWAMI NOOR­JE­HAN SAFIA NIAZ F o u n d e r, B h a r a t i y a M u s l i m Mahi­laAn­dolan

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