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Quietly, RSS affiliate has launched battle for equal inheritance rights of Muslim women

Author: Sanya Dhingra
Publication: The Print
Date: December 5, 2017
URL:   https://theprint.in/2017/12/05/rss-wing-battle-equal-inheritance-rights-muslim-women/amp/

Seeking to amend Muslim Personal Law on inheritance, Sahara Kalyan Samiti argues that the law fundamentally discriminates against women.

New Delhi: Headlines about the rights of Muslim women have largely focused on the campaign against triple talaq this year. But away from the spotlight, another battle to achieve gender equality in Muslim personal law is being waged in the Delhi High Court, and that too by an RSS affiliate.

Months after the Supreme Court invalidated the practice of instant triple talaq, the Delhi High Court is Tuesday due to hear a plea seeking equal inheritance rights for Muslim women. This will be the third hearing in the case filed earlier this year.

Seeking to amend the Muslim Personal Law on inheritance, the Sahara Kalyan Samiti argues in the petition that the law fundamentally discriminates against women.

Under the Muslim Personal Law, the petition says, a Muslim woman is entitled to only half of the share of property her male counterpart gets. As a rule, the law gives the male heirs, sons, twice the share of the daughters. This is in violation of the fundamental right to equality of women as enshrined under Articles 14, 19, 21 and other relevant provisions of the Constitution, the petition contends.

The petitioner states that a bare perusal of the apportionment of property in respect of succession reveals the following:

a. A wife shall receive 1/8th of the property of her husband on his death if they have children. In case there are no children she is entitled to 1/4th of the property.

b. A daughter shall receive half of the share of a son.

In stark contrast, the men of the family are provided for in the following manner:

a. A husband shall receive 1/4th of the property of his wife on her death if they have children. In case there are no children he is entitled to half of the property.

b. A son shall receive double the share of the daughter.

Shama Khan, who filed the plea as the founding member of the Sahara Kalyan Samiti, is also a member of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch of the RSS. After the debate on triple talaq gathered momentum, she decided to file the petition to seek equality in inheritance laws as well, she told ThePrint.

While the Sahara Kalyan Samiti, an NGO working in the areas of health, education, gender, is not formally affiliated with the RSS, she said the group gets aid from RSS leader Indresh Kumar. Khan said she is also set to campaign for the BJP in poll-bound Gujarat.

Zakia Soman, co-founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan – which has been at the forefront of the struggle against triple talaq and has also argued in support for a law seeking equal inheritance rights – says she does not know of Shama Khan or her track record in the area of women’s rights.

“A lot of players will enter this area now because it (Muslim women’s rights) is such a hot political issue. But it is hard to assess the intentions of these players,” she said.

While the petition argues that “it is erroneous to assume that personal laws are excluded from the ambit of judicial examination”, Kamal Farooqui of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board disagrees.

The Supreme Court judgment, in fact, holds that personal laws cannot be meddled with, he said. “Inheritance laws are a basic part of Islam, and cannot be interfered with…But these days, whatever we say is taken advantage of politically, so we will just keep quiet and suffer for now,” he added.

However, he also questioned the manner in which the BJP and RSS are working to highlight these issues at the time of elections.

One of the two lawyers appearing for the Samiti is Raghav Awasthi, who identifies himself as an RSS volunteer. Khan, in fact, got in touch with Awasthi through the RSS network, he says. However, he denies any institutional patronage from RSS on the issue.

His stand on the issue is simple. “As of now, inheritance laws among Muslims discriminate against women as the son inherits twice the share of the daughter. This is violative of the Constitution in letter and in spirit, and hence, must be read down,” he said.

While the court had sought the government’s response to the plea in March, it has not been filed yet.
 
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