Why Saraya Bano’s fight is significant for Muslim Women


Another ‘Bano’ has come to haunt the Muslim orthodoxy. In 1985 it was Shah Bano, the 62 year old woman who successfully challenged the orthodoxy and won the right to alimony from her husband. But the Rajiv Gandhi government, succumbing to the pressure from the Muslim fundamentalists had changed the law to circumvent the court order.

Now 37 year old Saraya Bano is fighting a legal battle challenging the triple talaq – the practice of divorcing wife by pronouncing the word ‘I divorce’(talaq in Arabic) thrice. With Supreme Court admitting her petition and the All India Muslim Law Board (AIMLB) preparing to challenge any dilution in what they calls ‘religiously sanctioned law’, the stage is set for a polarised debate on personal laws.

Saraya Bano, a post graduate in sociology from Nainital, says she is fighting for justice, by challenging the medieval practice. In October her husband posted a ‘talaqnama’ against her. That prompted her to fight against the patriarchal practice in Islam. She took recourse to judiciary requesting the apex court to declare the practice as illegal. She sought an order from the apex court declaring triple talaq and the nikah halala (the practice which bars re-marriage with divorced husband without an intervening marriage) under Muslim personal law as unconstitutional. The court while admitting the petition has observed that practices which impinges on the freedom of the women need to be changed with time. The court has sought the response from the central government on this.

Like in 1985, the AIMLB has come out strongly against any move to change the Muslim personal laws. The organisation which has successfully resisted any efforts by progressive groups within the community to change the anti-women practices portrays the move to change the personal laws as interfering in the religious matters by the State. But various women activists and Muslim women organisations have stepped up their campaign to declare the triple talaq system unconstitutional.

Now with the BJP government at the centre, and its ideological mentor’s RSS position on uniform civil code well known, the stand they are going to take in the court would become crucial. Secular activists have voiced apprehensions that the position taken by the Muslim clergy and fundamental groups against women rights would be used by right wing Hindu groups to advance their position on uniform civil code.

Whatever position the government is going to take in the case involving Saraya Bano, it is going to stimulate a debate on the rights of Muslim Women. It has been noted by several Muslim writers and activists that the triple talaq system is abolished in as many as 22 Islamic countries, including Pakistan. Some scholars of Islam  have pointed out that this invidious practice is prevalent mostly among the Sunni Muslims only.