Vantage point

Friday, July 01, 2005

Imrana Dilemma

As I try to articulate my opinion about the Imrana case, I find myself in a dilemma.

For those who have not heard about the case, Imrana, a Muslim woman in UP, was raped by her father in law. The village panchayat ruled that according to the Sharia laws, "zina" had been committed, and the rapist was a blood relative of her husband, and so her marriage was anulled. Instead, she was told to marry the rapist, i.e the father-in-law, and start thinking of her present husband as her son.

The media caught on to this story, and talked about how this judgement was so unfair, and castigated the panchayat for pronouncing it. Imrana herself expressed displeasure at the judgement and said she did not want to marry her rapist father-in-law.

The matter was then referred (by whom, i don't know) to the "Islamic scholars" of the Darul-Uloom in Deoband. They issued a fatwa upholding the judgement of the panchayat, saying it was in accordance with the Sharia.

Some members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board have endorsed the judgement, though the Board has not officially made stated its position on the issue yet. Mulayam of course, whose blind appeasement of Muslims has in the past irked even the most hardcore Muslims, has also supported the bizarre judgement.

This is where the dilemma comes in. Now Imarana has said that she is willing to abide by the fatwa, because she believes in Islam, and considers the Darul-Uloom as an authority on it.

Now if the victim herself is willing to abide by it, what locus standi do we have on the issue? Maybe she is being threatened into abiding by the fatwa, or maybe she is doing it of her own "free" will, because she has been brought up believing that the Darul-Uloom is always right.

Now in such a case, where a person is presumably conditioned from childhood into believing something, should we consider it free will? What role does the state have in the realm of personal law? If the state leaves defining personal law to communities, is it actually failing to protect the interests of the weaker subjugated members of that community who might be browbeaten or even brainwashed into following their warped laws?

Should there hence be a universal civil code? But if so, who should decide it? It is well known that the Hindu community was overwhelmingly opposed to the progressive Hindu Code Bill, and Nehru literally muscled it through. If the consensus of the society were to be taken into account, we would have a Hindu personal law as arachaic as the Muslim Personal Law.

A few months back, Yazad said to me, "Why do we need personal law at all?". I guess he meant that instead of forcing civil codes and personal laws, we should all be free to define our own relationships, based on mutual consent.

But here again, the brainwashing question comes in. If Imrana and her husband, the victims themselves, are willing to abide with the judgement, how can we criticize the fatwa as being unfair?