Dear Justice Saleem Marsoof and Members of the Committee,
We have perused the document that was recently made public on groundviews.org purporting to be report on the reforms recommended by your Committee. We have reason to believe given the content of the report that this is probably the very document your Committee submitted to the Honorable Minister of Justice in January this year. We note with appreciation, the time and effort put in by all members of the committee, as well as others who had contributed and assisted in the process, as mentioned and acknowledged in the report.
It is unfortunate that the Ministry has failed to officially release the report, as of today, to the public and we hope that it will be released without any further delay. Each day of delay prolongs the injustice, inequality and indignity of women and girls who suffer as a result of implementation of the MMDA, in its current state. We are aware that many, including members in MPLRAG, have filed RTI applications that are currently awaiting responses.
We observed that the Committee is split on recommendations pertaining to a few key substantive concerns to the Muslim communities in Sri Lanka. To those committee members who have agreed to the recommendations of the main report led by Justice Saleem Marsoof, we express our deepest gratitude.
The struggle for legal reform that is also responsive to the lived realities of Muslim women and girls in particular we understand has been the most contentious of issues. These committee members have proposed some concrete advances in this regard.
MPLRAG notes that there are many issues, such as recognizing 18 years for minimum age of marriage, compulsory registration of marriage to ensure validity, acceptance of women as Quazis, and unequivocally abolishing dowry, on which these Committee members including the Chair have made positive recommendations based on sound interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence. For some of them it has been over three decades of working on the issues facing Muslim women.
We recognize that the path to these positive recommendations may have had a physical and emotional toll and we are given to understand that these members were even subject to attacks on their reputation during the process. We wholeheartedly commend you for standing up to these attacks and doing the right thing on behalf of the greater welfare and future of the Muslim communities in Sri Lanka.
We also note that there are issues unaddressed or compromised in the report. Women and girls affected by these positions will have the support of MPLRAG to continue to advocate for solutions for these concerns, including: a more accessible Quazi court system; procedural and substantive equality in divorce; to refrain from expanding the jurisdiction of the Quazi courts to include matters of access and custody until the court system is demonstrably improved, and also the choice of legal scheme under which one’s marriage is to be governed by removing the disability for Muslims to register a marriage under the General Registration of Marriages Ordinance.
MPLRAG will analyze each one of these recommendations in greater detail in the near future and engage community activists and those affected to evaluate and respond to the recommendations.
It is regrettable to learn that nine members appearing to be led by President’s Counsel Faiz Mustapha, including also President’s Counsel Shibly Aziz who serves on the Constitutional Council, have taken some archaic positions on the proposed reforms which are detrimental to women and girls. It is inconceivable that eminent persons who have fought to protect fundamental rights in other fora are not strong advocates for the vulnerable and discriminated in their own community. Appearing to have submitted a separate set of recommendations, it is shocking, particularly in this enlightened era, to see recommendations that do not protect our children from early marriage, does not recognize women’s full autonomy in marriage and divorce, nor allows for women to be Quazi judges etc.
It also shows how detached, removed and unconcerned these committee members are from the everyday realities and negative impacts of MMDA on Muslim women and girls. We urge these members to find it in their conscience, as a duty of those in positions to take decisions that impact the lives of vulnerable sections of the Muslim communities in Sri Lanka, to revisit these positions from the enlightened values of Islam, the aspirations, interests and rights of all individuals in the community and framework of citizenry which is the need of the hour in this country. It is never too late to do the right thing.
Once again we record our sincere appreciation and we look forward to the public release of the report. We also look forward to working with all committee members who have shown enlightened leadership and those who are interested in truly making a difference particularly for the benefit of Muslim women and girls towards getting this reform passed in the Parliament.
Towards this end, MPLRAG will work to take forward discussions on the analysis and recommendations with women and men from, and working with, affected communities, and continue our campaign to get the Muslim political leaders and the State to act on the recommendations.
Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG)