New Delhi, Sept. 8: The Union minority affairs ministry has decided to take a leaf out of Mamata Banerjee’s book and launch a rehabilitation scheme for abandoned Muslim women across the country.
“During a recent visit to half-a-dozen states, we were shocked at the plight of hundreds of Muslim women who have been abandoned by their husbands,” a ministry official told The Telegraph.
The ministry is impressed with the Bengal government’s programme to help abandoned Muslim women in minority-concentrated districts by building homes for them as well as market complexes where they can earn a living.
Bengal launched the scheme as part of the multi-sectoral development programme (MSDP) for poor Muslim women in 2011 after Mamata came to power, the official said.
“We had allotted Rs 800 crore to Bengal for MSDP programmes in 2011. Because of the state government’s good work, we raised the sum to Rs 1,100 crore last year and increased it a little more this year,” the official added.
A Bengal government official said the state had around three lakh abandoned Muslim women, mainly in Murshidabad, Birbhum, Burdwan, Malda, Cooch Behar, South and North Dinajpur, South 24 Parganas and Howrah.
“We are building homes for them and have instructed district officials to be very sympathetic towards these women and take the help of NGOs to reach out to them,” the official said.
The Union minority affairs ministry has drafted NGOs to compile data on abandoned women and ascertain their number country-wide.
“Most of these women were either divorced through an oral triple talaaq or thrown out of their homes by their husbands along with their children. They have no sources of income,” the ministry official said.
Another official said the Centre would provide additional funds for the programme and the state governments would have to implement the scheme. The collectors in minority-concentrated districts will oversee the programme.
A National Commission for Women official said these women were victims of unilateral separation and denial of alimony, yet many of them were not even aware of their legal rights and suffered throughout their lives.
“Since the community follows the Muslim Personal Law which allows polygamy, we find it difficult to solve such cases,” the official said.
“We have sent a report to the minority affairs ministry on these women’s problems. We are trying to increase their awareness so they can take legal recourse and fight for their rights. Community leaders too need to address this issue.”
The commission official said many Muslim women were now coming forward and lodging cases with state commissions complaining of harassment by their husbands.
Minority leaders welcomed the Centre’s move. “It’s a serious issue in the community. We all need to help these women,” said Mohammed Ahmed, national secretary of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.
The Prime Minister’s 15-point welfare programme for minorities was launched in 2008 after the Sachar Committee highlighted the plight of Muslims, especially women.
The Centre now runs empowerment schemes for Muslim women under the MSDP, including a leadership development programme with the help of NGOs.