PUCL Bulletin, August 2005

Imrana, Jyotsna, Raju, Basanti......

-- By Y.P. Chhibbar

Imrana was reported to have been raped by her father-in-law in Budhana, Muzaffarnagar, UP. It was reported that the village Panchaayat ruled that she had lost her piety and would not continue to live with her husband. This mother of five is reported to have said that she would follow the Panchaayat verdict, which, again, was reported to have been confirmed by the authority of Dar-ul-Uloom (Deoband).

Meanwhile, some prominent Muslim women activists and some Muslim individuals questioned the Panchaayat decision and the endorsement by Deoband, which had, in course of time become a ‘fatwaa.’

Events took a curious turn. It was said at Deoband that no fatwaa was issued; only an opinion was given on a hypothetical question. The National Commission for Women team, led by its Chief, Ms Girija Vyas, met Imrana. She told them that she wanted to live with her wedded husband, but would follow Shariat.

Take two
Jyotsna Ara (19) of South Jaramari village under Dhing Police station in Nagaon district of Assam was married to Imran Hussain Bhuyan, belonging to Kaskati village, towards December 2004. Her fifty year old father-in-law Moinuddin raped her when Jyotsna’s husband Imran Hussain and her mother-in-law were not at home. When Jyotsna reported the matter to her husband, they are reported to have told her to keep quiet, else they would kill her. Jyotsna got scared and ran off to her father’s village.

It is reported that her father, Mujibur Rahman, first reported the matter to the Muftis of Dar-ul Hadia Parmabhati Islamia Madrasa. Mufti Fazlul Karim Hussaini issued a fatwaa seeking confirmation of the incident. Jyotsna’s husband Imran Hussain confirmed it. Thereafter a second fatwaa was issued labeling Imran-Jyotsna marriage “Illegal under the circumstances.” and directed Imran to divorce his wife.

Thereafter, Jyotsna’s father, Mujibur Rahman, appealed to the Superintendent of Police of Nagao on June 28 to secure justice for his daughter. The police registered a case under Section 376 against Moinuddin. The victim recorded her statement before a Magistrate on July 6 and under-went a medical examination. The culprit in the meanwhile was reported to have fled to Nagaland (case reported in The Hindustan Times, Delhi, July 8, 2005).

Jyotsna and Imrana are not the only examples of women who received pronouncements from systems of justice that were put in place when the modern systems of written laws, Constitution, concept of gender equality, etc. were yet to emerge. The question is, what is to be done in the event of a clash between the traditional structure and the present day Rights and concepts of Justice?

Perhaps the question may become clearer with one or two more examples. Delivering the 16th JP Memorial Lecture of the PUCL, Ms Manimala, in 1996, had cited a number of incidents that she had covered as a reporter wherein women were punished by the Panchaayat for crimes inflicted on them.

Take three
An aged woman Raju was raped by a young man Bisati, of the age of her son, in a village in Madhya Pradesh. Raju filed a report with the police. Under intense pressure, the police went to arrest Bisati. But he absconded. Next day he visited the house of the victim and proposed a “samjhautaa” (settlement). Raju said, “Son, how can you beg pardon for a crime like rape and propose a settlement?” He went away to comeback after a few hours again with the police. Bisati and the police both argued with the victim that this “village matter” should better he settled mutually; everyone has to live in the same village, why insist on action? Raju was unable to understand this matter of ‘mutual settlement’. Bisati explained it thus: he said Aunt you have a son of my age and I have a mother of your age. Your son can go and do with my mother what I did with you!

Take four
Another incident that Ms Manimala narrated concerned a village named Karauli in Rajasthan. A woman, Basanti, reported that she was raped. The Panchaayat was convened. The Panchaayat heard Basanti and everyone was convinced that her modesty was outraged by one Mahesh. In the meeting of the Panchaayat the 25 year old mother of a child, the victim, was the only woman. This congregation delivered its judgement: Basanti’s husband Raja was directed to do with Mahesh’s wife Urmila what Mahesh had done to Raja’s wife! Basanti did not accept the verdict. She said that the crime was committed by Mahesh. Why should his wife be punished?
To cut a long narrative short, now Urmila also barged into the Panchaayat meeting. Both Basanti and Urmila hugged each other. Other village women also trickled in slowly! This was unheard of. Women in Panchaayat! The male Panchaayat walked out. Urmila went and occupied the seat. She said that her judgement was that her husband Mahesh should visit every family in the village and beg pardon of the women there, and then he should leave the village for one month. She knew, she said, that this judgement would be unacceptable. “Now I deliver the part of the judgement that would be acceptable. I am not going to live with a rapist.”

Now, such incidents raise sensitive but important questions. In Imrana’s case there have been conflicting reactions. There is conflict of opinion between the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board. In Jyotsna’s case her father himself has reported the matter to the police. In Raju’s case the police pressurised her to accept “Samjhautaa” proposed by Bisati. In Basanti’s case Basanti and Urmila both took courage in their hands and turned the tables on tradition, blowing the male bastion to pieces.

It is clear that the traditional jurisprudence is on collision course with current laws.

Let us try to put matters in a proper perspective.
Salman Rushdie is reported to have said that “… Power over women’s life should be taken away from medievalist institutions”.

Supreme Court Advocate Sona Khan says that “…Violence against women both in the family and outside has become something of an issue in public life. There seems to me to be an attempt from certain quarters (…of the Muslim leadership) to keep the Muslim Women (…of UP) away from the benefits of the proposed Bill relating to domestic violence”. She continues, “Security of Women, Personal, Social, Economic, and Political is the responsibility of the State” (The Indian Express, July 8, 2005).

We have to recognise that in view of the absence of a well knit and forceful women’s movement in this part of the world, the attempts to subvert the rise of the woman by medieval practices and attitudes will continue be it Imrana, Raju, Urmila, Jyotsna, or others in India or Mukhtaranmai in Pakistan.
Obscurantist institutions like traditional Panchaayats are male dominated and either caste based or dominated by upper castes. States where feudal traditions survived continue to have a traditional judicial infrastructure. The modern judicial legal institutions have to confront the combined legacy of these medieval infrastructures.

Existence of parallel jurisdiction of traditional Panchaayats or religious Institutions should not be recognised. If freedom of religion is counter productive in the process of protecting the rights of the deprived, it is the duty of the State to enforce laws that give protection to them. Examples of Satee illustrate the argument well.

We cannot overlook the fact that feudal psyche still dominates the intellect of many. How can we forget that the judges in the rape case of Bhanwari bai refused to believe that upper caste people would rape a lower caste woman!
So we have to girdle up to fight not only “medieval” institutions but also remnants of feudal culture and ideologies.


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