Under the Constitution of India, all citizens have equal rights. However, a unique feature of Indian law is that issues pertaining to matters like divorce, inheritance, custody, marriage and alimony are settled according to personal laws dictated by different religious groups.
For many among the 172 million Muslims in the country, these civil matters are settled by qazis or judges, a role traditionally dominated by men, and they use Islamic jurisprudence to adjudicate on them. Although these qazis in local Sharia courts are not a replacement for legal courts, families often prefer to use this medium to settle disputes of a personal nature.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), an Indian Muslim women’s rights organisation, began tipping the scales of this form of religious jurisprudence when they started training 30 women in the Quran, constitutional law and gender rights more than three years ago.
What the BMMA sought to accomplish was to produce a steady stream of female qazis across India who would adjudicate on personal family matters. With men dominating this profession, a lot of settlements went against women.
Last April, the first batch of 15 trained female qazis began their quest for justice, Vice reported. “A man goes and says ‘I want to divorce my wife,’ then the qazi—also with a man’s perspective—he signs off on the divorce. But these injustices happen with women, so why can’t we also become qazis?” says Suriya Sheikh, one of the 15 trained and qualified women qazis to Vice.
These women underwent a three-year training process that included learning the Quran, women’s rights and constitutional law. The first batch of 15 women graduated last April and took on their new roles as qazis. They conduct their business within the premises of the BMMA’s Mumbai offices.
To the uninitiated, the BMMA is also the same organisation that initially led the fight against the draconian practice of triple talaq. They were one of the petitioners who took the matter to the Supreme Court, and the Lok Sabha, in December voted for a law that seeks to criminalise the practice.