Seventy-year-old Bader Sayeed, a lawyer, activist and a former lawmaker from Tamil Nadu has moved the Supreme Court challenging triple talaq, the system by which a Muslim man can unilaterally divorce his wife under Shariat law. Sayeed has impleaded in the Shayara Banu case who has challenged the constitutional validity of the triple talaq system. The former additional advocate general of Tamil Nadu wants the apex court to frame clear guidelines so that courts can grant divorces in cases concerning a Muslim man and woman. Through her petition, she has also drawn the court’s attention to kazis or Islamic scholars, who arbitrarily grant divorces, without judicial powers.
The News Minute interviewed Bader Sayeed on her plea, on criticism that she is going against Islam and on taking on patriarchy.
Why did you decide to move the Supreme Court seeking a ban on triple talaq?
You have got it all wrong. Two and a half years ago I had approached the Madras High Court seeking a declaration that kazi should not validate divorce. They do not have any judicial power and then the woman suffer because of it. Now the victim (Shayara Banu) went to the Supreme Court so I impleaded in that to the court that a man or a woman should go to the court for divorce. The Supreme Court has already abolished the triple talaq and asked them to go for a mandatory three-month period but who is following it?
Have you had a number of women approaching you over the years? Did any of their stories move you to act? Can you share your experience?
Several women have come to us seeking help. Even though the law is not in our favour we try to innovate and get them justice. I also run an NGO called Roshni. Why are we always struggling like this? Why can’t we move the court and get help and not have our rights violated all the time?
There are so many women who are thrown out of their house without a reason. In some cases, if the woman say there is a problem, men say I will go get married to another woman, if you want you can come and live with us. In one case, email talaq was given to a pregnant woman. One email came in the morning, one in the evening and one when she was in labour.
How do you react to critics saying you’re interfering with religion or going against Islam by doing so?
I’m not at all going into religion. Religion is separate from law in a secular nation. I am just talking about gender justice. My religion gives me a lot of rights. It is just the middlemen who misinterpret it. I’m talking about gender justice and I’m sure that the court will grant it. For Domestic Violence Act, custody of the child, for everything we go to the court. What is so special about this? It is just to sustain patriarchy.
How would you compare Shayara Banu’s case today to that of Shah Bano case of the 1980s?
Women are becoming more aware and they are raising their voices. We have moved 20 years ahead. Women have evolved. Women are all in the forefront now. Even Muslim women have come forward not much in numbers but enough for their voices to be heard.
With the BJP in power at the Centre, do you foresee political interference in this case? Would this spur efforts to bring in Uniform Civil Code in India?
Do you think that it is possible to bring Uniform Civil Code with so many states and religions? I want justice. I cannot wait for that. I do not know about political interference. I am only concerned about gender justice.
Some argue that there are other legal avenues available for Muslim women like Shayara Banu like the Domestic Violence Act or the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. There have also been past judgments that invalidated instantaneous triple talaq. So to say the idea that Muslim women have no rights unless Muslim law is codified or the Uniform Civil code is enacted is wrong. What are your thoughts?
We do not need any Uniform Civil Code. I was the one who used to scream out for 25 years for codification but it is not going to happen. I need urgent orders. Why is there so much problem with doing away with polygamy or divorce laws? Because men want to focus on patriarchy.
How important is it that the reform comes from within the Muslim community, and not for political motivations outside?
We are part of the community and we are asking for a reform. I’m also looking for adjudication.
Do you think 'secular' parties in India have done harm to Muslim women by siding with fundamentalists in the name of minority protection?
I don’t know. Even if they have done it, I’m keeping it aside. I have confidence in women and in court, a change will happen.
Do you think Islamic personal law should be allowed to legally exist?
Till my legal rights are not touched, I do not care what law exists or not till gender justice is prevalent. Why are we bringing in religion here? Religion and law both are separate.