VP Zuhra | Photo: Mathrubhumi
Kozhikode: The announcement made by advocate C Shukkur - ‘Nna Than Case Kodu' fame Shukkur Vakkeel- that he is remarrying his wife took Malayalis by surprise.
He is registering his marriage under the Special Marriage Act on International Women’s Day, March 8. Shukkur and Sheena Shukkur got married as per the Islamic custom decades ago. What triggered the couple for a 'remarriage' is the ongoing legal battle for ensuring equal rights on inheritance for women in the community.
Shukkur believes that the Special Marriage Act is a workaround- and the only solution in the current scenario- that will allow him to write all his property in the name of their daughters.
Marrying under the Special Marriage Act “ceases" them to be Muslims “for purposes of inheritance,” notes a document titled Inheritance under Muslim Law, available on districts.ecourts.gov.in. They will be allowed to partition the wealth according to Indian Succession Act, 1925 and not the Sharia law.
According to the Muslim Personal Law, the property will be divided into 12 shares which can go to husband, wife, daughter, daughter of a son, father, paternal grandfather, mother, grandmother on the male line, full sister, consanguine sister, uterine sister, and uterine brother.
What number of shares goes to whom will depend upon the situation of the family. The law for a family with more than one daughter, and a family with one son and one daughter are different, for example. In the case of Shukkur, who has three daughters, his brothers can claim a share of his property under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.
Such cases are not rare in Kerala. Shukkur himself shared the story of Ayishumma from Tanur recently on his Facebook page. Ayishumma is in court seeking approval from her husband's brothers for selling the wealth he created to pay off a debt. Otherwise she will lose her house. She or her three daughters doesn’t enjoy the full rights of inheritance thanks to the Muslim Personal Law. In several cases, this comes as a surprise for Muslim women because of their ignorance. However, this matter is not new and Muslims have been discussing it for decades.
The bottomline is: inheritance rights for men and women are not the same. The premise is that men in the family will take care of women.
While Shukkur is planning to ‘remarry’, a new organisation is getting formed in the state. Forum for Muslim Women's Gender Justice. The sole purpose of the forum is to gain support for the legal battle for equal inheritance rights for Muslim men and women. The organisation is led by familiar faces of the 'progressive' Muslim women in Kerala- VP Zuhra, Dr Khadeeja Mumtaz and M Sulfath.
Zuhara’s another organisation, Nisa (Arabic for women), had recently impleaded itself in the special leave petition in the Supreme Court filed by Khuran Sunnath Society against a Kerala High Court verdict which said changes to the Muslim Personal Law can be brought in by the legislature alone.
The Forum for Muslim Women's Gender Justice has been campaigning in the state for the past few months and is set to organise its first state-level meeting on March 12 in Kozhikode. The Forum is now holding meetings in colleges across the state. “We have been to various colleges like Sree Kerala Varma College in Thrissur, Calicut and Kannur universities among others. The new generation is keen on these issues and we are getting a warm welcome everywhere,” Zuhra told mathrubhumi.com. It is the organisation's goal to build up support for its cause. Also, it aims to convince the state government to file an affidavit supporting the claim.
“We are always hopeful. How can a Left government take a stand against its people? However, they have met the religious leaders on this matter and it doesn’t look good, I must say,” Zuhra said. She had warned the government of protest if it decides to support Sharia law in the SC. Government is bound to file an affidavit in the case. It met the powerful Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama clergy and other leaders of the community to discuss the issue. The news reports suggested that the government may vouch for the status quo.
However, this may lead to another question: Isn't it another way of backing the claim for Uniform Civil Code?
The Forum is facing criticism not only from the “fundamentalists” who believe the Muslim Personal Law is good enough. There are people who believe the women deserve equal rights but such a case may lead to the implementation of the controversial Uniform Civil Code, an long-pending demand of the Sangh Parivar.
Zuhra outrightly denies it. “This is a fight for constitutional and fundamental rights. We don’t support the UCC proposed by the Hindu fundamentalist government. We are equally worried about criminalising the triple talaq. Nor do we support the Citizenship Amendment Act. This legal fight has nothing to do with UCC. This is a human rights issue,” she said.
She added that there was no question raised about the UCC when the Hindu personal laws were amended or when the court allowed the petition of Mary Roy for changing the Christian inheritance law.