For those not in the know, a manel is a term given to a panel of speakers or participants that consists of men only. This practice has been red-flagged by many women who view this as an exercise in gender discrimination. After all how hard is it to find a deserving and competent woman to be included? If you want to, that is.
The paucity of women judges is not unique. And the fact that the Supreme Court has only one female judge is not surprising. In fact one needs to ask – if women lawyers and judges find negotiating the law corridors difficult, then what about the women appealing in courts? There are many horror stories found in the same corridors of women being shamed or ridiculed for taking recourse through law for their rights, especially in matters of marital discord. We live and breathe in a patriarchal society and no part of the society can be said to be immune from internalizing this experience.
This brings us to the Supreme Court bench hearing the petitions in the Triple Talaq case. A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice J Khehar is hearing on seven petitions, including five separate writ petitions filed by Muslim women. The bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph, RF Nariman, UU Lalit and Abdul Nazeer, has also taken up the main matter on its own as a petition titled “Muslim Women’s quest for equality”. The members of the bench are from different religious communities including Sikh, Christian, Parsi, Hindu and Muslim.
Whether this religious balance was struck through design or chance can be up for debate. But considering the absence of a female on the bench, design does come to one’s mind. Is religious balance more important than gender balance?
The Supreme Court knows the best way forward, and we trust it to be fair and unbiased and do not question its judgment. But a female helping decide women’s fate would have looked better. Didn’t we all collectively share a laugh when President Donald Trump signed the anti-abortion legislation in a room full of men? The irony wasn’t lost on anyone.
The mathematician Greg Martin, who has devised a statistical probability analysis, suggests that all-male line-ups don’t “just happen”, the odds of it being random are next to none.
Eminent lawyer Salman Khurshid was asked to assist the SC bench in this special summer hearing, surely a woman lawyer could also have been approached irrespective of her religion?
Shouldn’t the empathy and sensitivity of a woman on the bench be valuable when judging on women’s rights? This is a pertinent question as the Indian courts have a history of passing judgments to satisfy ‘collective conscience’.
The fact that there is no woman judging on matters of Muslim women’s rights actually is a mirror to the absence of women in Muslim societies and their participation in the public sphere and community decision-making. Much of it stems from segregation of women and the mosques being not a woman-friendly space largely in India. It has made our women complacent with men deciding our faith and fate.
Why are we surprised when such patriarchal practices of instant triple talaq not only thrive but are supported by boys’ clubs like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB)? To be fair they do have some token female members on their boards but most of them are pussyfooting around the issue or supporting patriarchal observations, if not adding fuel to fire. Any dissenting woman is of course denied membership as was the case with Rukhsana Nikhat Lari recently when she was ousted from AIMPLB for opposing instant triple talaq. The boys club loves making its own laws and then their own punishments that fit their comfort index.
So in the end, what we get to choose from is a religiously diversified manel and a boys’ club with token females at AIMPLB. Surely in the year 2017 we can do better?
The SC has been sending out all the right signals till now, recognizing the importance of this issue by taking up the petition hearings during summer holidays. While we the Muslim women welcome this and support the law wholeheartedly, we just wish, we did not have a manel deciding on our rights.
(Nazia Erum is a TEDx speaker and author of forthcoming book, ‘Mothering a Muslim’ by Juggernaut Books. Her views are personal and not that of News18.com. She can be reached on twitter at nazia_e)