Hamid Dalwai, the man who led triple talaq stir in 1967

Congress MP Husain Dalwai says the first street protest against triple talaq was led by Hamid Dawai and his wife Mehrunnisa, who advanced the cause of reforms within the Muslim community

Abhiram Ghadyalpatil, Shreya Agarwal
Updated24 Aug 2017
The historic march in Mumbai was led by Muslim progressive thinker Hamid Dalwai and saw participation of seven women, including his wife late Mehrunissa Dalwai. Photo: HT
The historic march in Mumbai was led by Muslim progressive thinker Hamid Dalwai and saw participation of seven women, including his wife late Mehrunissa Dalwai. Photo: HT

Mumbai/New Delhi: Fifty years after radical Muslim reformer Hamid Dalwai led the first street protest against the practice of triple talaq in Bombay (now Mumbai) along with just seven women, his younger brother and Congress MP Husain Dalwai is happy that Hamid’s lonely struggle is finally nearing its logical conclusion.

The Supreme Court judgment on 22 August terming triple talaq as “unconstitutional” is a tribute to Husain’s own struggle for this reform. In August 2016, during the monsoon session of Parliament, Husain introduced a private member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha titled the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Bill, 2016. He hopes the bill will come up for debate in the winter session.

“India must join the league of many other Muslim countries like Iraq, Turkey and our neighbours Bangladesh and Pakistan, which have codified the law related to divorce, thereby bringing certainty and removing discrimination in the application of personal laws,” says the statement of objects and reasons for moving the bill. The bill laid down the process of talaq as enumerated in the Quran and provided that dissolution proceedings could be initiated—in court, or outside it—by either of the parties.

Hamid would have been 84 today had kidney failure not snuffed his life out in 1977. Husain, 75, feels this fundamental reform would have come much earlier had Hamid lived longer. “(Atal Bihari) Vajpayee’s government would have done it probably. In Hamid bhai’s loss, the Muslims lost a strong and restless reformist voice,” Husain told Mint.

He remembers the first street protest and the context in which Hamid and his reformist wife Mehrunnisa, who died in June this year, advanced the cause of reforms within the Muslim community. “I was 25 when Hamid bhai led that street protest with only seven women upfront with him. One of them was my bhabhi (sister-in-law) and one our sister. There were other women like Sudhatai Boda and Mrinal Gore but they were behind,” Husain said, recalling that day in 1966.

In his 2010 book Makers of Modern India, historian and writer Ramachandra Guha has included Hamid Dalwai, describing him as “the last modernist” who was “little known in his lifetime and has been largely forgotten since”.

Marathi writer and poet Dilip Chitre, Hamid’s friend who translated into English some of Hamid’s works in Marathi, described Hamid as the “angry young secularist”. In his profile and interview of Hamid Dalwai carried as the last chapter in Muslim Politics in India, Chitre writes that when Hamid led the street march for reforms in Muslim personal law, the then chief minister of Maharashtra Vasantrao Naik had the courtesy to meet Hamid and the delegation of women but “the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, despite being a woman, refused to meet the women who had led a bigger march in Pune”.

In the interview, Hamid paints a grim picture of fundamentalism gripping both Muslims and Hindus but says he expects Muslim women to lead the change. To be sure, Hamid was equally and radically opposed to the ban on cow slaughter, which he thought would “prevent Hindus from modernizing themselves”.

Though Hamid died young at 44, Husain Dalwai carried on the fight for reforms among Muslims on his own. A socialist in the mid-80s before he first joined Janata Dal and then Samajwadi Party, to finally settle in the Congress, Husain led Muslim women in Mumbai in an attempt to stop then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s car for “siding with the Muslim clergy in denying justice to Shah Bano”.

“At that time, I had formed an organisation called Tarakkipasand Muslimeen (Progressive Muslims) to advocate reforms. I believe the Shah Bano case damaged the cause of reforms like nothing else, and it also led to the rise of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Hindutva politics,” Husain said. He added that the Congress has failed to take a “clear-cut secular position” before the Indian society which is in grave need of “secularization”.

Asked if it is ironical that this key reform—the triple talaq judgment—has come at a time when Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party is Prime Minister, Husain said it is wrong of Modi to consider triple talaq as the only problem that Muslim women or women in general face in India.

“He should also advance reforms for those non-Muslim women in India who have been abandoned by their families. Maharashtra alone has more than five lakh such women. The reformist zeal must be secular and inclusive,” Dalwai said.

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