|Following the call given by the Ranchi CEC of the All India Democratic Women's Association, the Janwadi Mahila Samiti (Delhi Committee) held a convention on 'Issues before Muslim Women: Social, Economic and Legal', on 22 November 2005. Almost 250 women from different parts of Delhi participated in the convention. The first session was devoted to a discussion on the economic and social problems of Muslim women. This was followed by a session on legal issues, especially in the context of Muslim Personal Law.
The objective of the convention was to focus attention on broader social and economic problems of Muslim women, especially of the deprived sections, rather than that of viewing their status merely from the perspective of Muslim Personal Law. It needs to be underlined that aggressive communalization in India from 1992 onwards has resulted in a growing sense of insecurity among the Muslims. This has resulted in their preferring the relative safety of ghettos. This trend is visible in cities across the country. In Delhi some of the localities with a predominantly Muslim population are Jama Masjid and its adjoining areas, Welcome, Zakir Nagar, Devli village (Khanpur), Khureji, and Sundar Nagri. A large number of participants from these localities attended the convention and participated in the discussion.
One of the participants from Devli village, Hajrah Begum, drew attention to the lack of any sewer line in the locality. This has forced the residents of the area to carry out disposal of sewage directly through open drains. The government primary school in the locality is situated in an open ground which cannot be used during the rainy season. Another participant, Anwari from Sri Ram Colony, pointed out that no kharanjas had been provided in the area. Further, there is no facility for piped drinking water and they have to rely on water from hand-pumps which is not safe for drinking. Referring to conditions in the walled city, Kaifi particularly stressed on the discrimination which Muslim children had to face when they sought admission in government schools. Participants from Karol Bagh spoke about the discrimination that they had to face in getting their voter identity cards made.
Similar conditions prevail in Okhla Vihar. Since no drinking water is available, residents have to procure their supplies from sources located at a distance of 2-3 km, for which they have to incur an expenditure of nearly Rs.200-400 per month, which they are unable to afford.
Summing up the discussion at the end of the first session, Brinda Karat, MP, Vice-President of AIDWA, stated that Muslim women need to associate themselves in larger numbers with the democratic and progressive forces to struggle for their rights. According to official figures illiteracy and unemployment among Muslim women has assumed alarming proportions. This is partly due to the insensitive, and at some level biased, approach of the state machinery, and partly due to some of the very problems of the Muslim community that the situation has been further complicated.
The discussion in the second session was initiated by Maimoona Mollah. She highlighted some of the negative features of the model Nikahnama recently drafted by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. It is unfortunate that the model Nikahnama only focusses on the duties and obligations of women, but ignores the rights granted to them by Islam. Maimoona Mollah strongly opposed the practice of triple talaq and demanded that it should be immediately banned. She also condemned the widespread practice of dowry among Muslims and demanded that effective steps should be taken to put an end to this evil. There is also an urgent need to address questions pertaining to second marriage, maintenance and child custody. The Muslim Personal Law Board should initiate measures to address these issues, taking into account the demands of the democratic and progressive women's movement.
Speaking at the convention a participant from Khureji, Chandmuni, narrated the story of her being divorced because she had given birth to two daughters. She had been denied her 'mehar', and received no maintenance. Kaifi from the walled city as well as several other participants had very similar experiences.
Summing up the discussion at the end of the second session, Sudha Sundararaman, General Secretary of AIDWA, stated that AIDWA had always been at the forefront of the struggle against oppression of women in the name of religion. She noted that Muslim women had to struggle both against communal forces as well as against the denial of their legitimate rights under personal law.
Kirti Singh, eminent lawyer and President of JMS, presided over the convention.