Shukkur vakkeel veendum vivahithanakunnu (Advocate Shukkur is getting married again), the headline said.
Many ignored it as clickbait since advocate and rights activist C Shukkur had grabbed the limelight by playing the role of his namesake advocate in the popular 2022 Malayalam movie, Nna Thaan Case Kodu (Then Sue Me).
However, the headline was straight and true, and the report triggered a debate on gender disparity that prevents Muslim girls from inheriting their parents’ wealth under Sharia, Islam’s legal system.
Shukkur decided to remarry Sheena — his wife for nearly three decades — under the Special Marriages Act of 1954 so that their three daughters could inherit their wealth for a secure future.
The couple, living in Kerala’s northernmost district of Kasaragod, was married under Sharia on 6 October, 1994.
Panakkad Syed Hyder Ali Shihab Thangal, then the president of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and one of Kerala’s most respected religious leaders, solemnised their marriage.
On Wednesday, 8 March — International Women’s Day — Shukkur and Sheena Shukkur, former pro-vice-chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala’s Kottayam, remarried in the presence of their three daughters at the sub-registrar’s office at Kanhangad in Kasaragod’s Hosdurg taluk.
Shukkur had earlier announced their plan to remarry on International Women’s Day.
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Equal before Allah and Constitution
“May Allah raise the self-confidence and dignity of our daughters. All are equal before Allah and our Constitution,” he said in a Facebook post.
As soon as Shukkur announced the plan to remarry through the post last week, social media started celebrating the decision as a revolutionary one, highlighting the prevailing alleged discrimination against women in the Muslim Personal Law (MPL).
Several women’s organisations demanding Constitutional rights of equality for Muslim women have also lauded the couple’s decision.
Explaining the rationale behind their decision to remarry, Shukkur told South First that the Muslim Personal Law and Sharia permit only two-thirds of the parental properties to go to their daughters.
The remaining wealth would go to his brothers, he said.
Only those with daughters faced such discrimination; not those with male progeny. The Shukkur-Sheena couple does not have a son.
The advocate said he wanted the public to discuss the discrimination and facilitate reforms.
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Drama, says political observer
While the progressive forces in Kerala are applauding the couple for the bold and revolutionary move, their decision has also triggered a controversy over the real intention for holding such a “drama” on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
Prominent Muslim groups in Kerala are keeping a stoic silence, but high court lawyer and political observer A Jayashankar questioned the couple’s real intentions.
In a Facebook post, Jayashankar opined that the reason behind the much-hyped remarriage was not sharing their properties with Shukkur’s brothers.
“Muslim couples in Kerala have overcome similar situations by secretly getting married under the Special Marriage Act, and they include a celebrated businessman with investments across the globe,” he posted.
“Here, these people celebrate the second marriage through Facebook posts, newspaper reports, and television panel discussions. The intention is very clear. They wish to bring the Muslim Personal Laws under public scrutiny to facilitate the imposition of the controversial Uniform Civil Code [UCC],” he alleged.
Jayashankar’s post was “liked” by several internet users from the Muslim community.
He also pointed out that Shukkur and Sheena were active in a recently-held Muslim women’s conference in Kozhikode as expert speakers on Muslim Personal Law and the need for a UCC.
The BJP has raised the contentious issue of UCC to demoralise Indian Muslims, he said.
In Kerala, the ruling CPI(M) also favours the civil code, saying Muslim women in India face gender inequality.
Giving a political dimension to the move, Jayashankar alleged that the couple — staunch supporters of the IUML till recently — was now subscribing to the views of the CPI(M).
They (the couple) are now targeting the Muslim Personal Laws as per the decision of the Left party, he alleged.
Shukkur denied any such political motives behind his decision.
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Why remarriage? C Shukkur explains
“I had a narrow escape twice from car accidents recently. Those incidents prompted me to think of my daughters’ fate in the event of my sudden death,” he said.
“So, I thought of plugging the loopholes that would prevent my daughters from inheriting our properties. We both are faithful Muslims, and getting married again under the Special Marriage Act is not against the religion,” he explained.
He also said that many Muslims are secretly getting married under the Special Marriage Act to avoid the discriminatory provisions in Sharia. “We just made it public,” he told South First.
Social worker Hussain Bava Erukulangara demanded a discussion on the couple’s real intention on getting remarried on International Women’s Day.
“There are provisions in Indian laws to pass down family property to daughters legally. Instead of opting for that, Shukkur is now facilitating a debate favouring the Uniform Civil Code,” he said.
“The BJP and CPI(M) have been demanding the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code for a long time due to political motives. The real intention of such a remarriage, and that too on International Women’s Day, must be discussed,” he told South First.
Meanwhile, the couple reiterated that they want their children to inherit their hard-earned property and nobody else should benefit from it. There is no other intention behind the move, they claimed.
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Political motives at play?
But some IUML sources in Kasaragod said the couple has been keeping a distance from the party and is in touch with the CPI(M).
They indicated the possibility of the couple joining the CPI(M) using their newly acquired progressive image for gaining better political positions.
However, Kozhikode-based VP Suhara, who wages continuous court battles against the discrimination of Muslim women, said Shukkur and Sheena made a good move, one that would expose the orthodoxy in the Muslim community and their regressive policies.
“The prevailing Muslim law allows a son to inherit the wealth and properties of his parents fully. However, in the case of a single girl child, only half of their wealth can be claimed,” she explained to South First.
“It will be two-thirds of the share if the parents have more than one daughter. And what is the logic behind the deceased person’s brothers inheriting his property,” she asked.
Suhara called for making necessary changes in the acts concerned.
“As far as we are concerned, the only way to overcome the situation is to get married under the Special Marriage Act passed by our Parliament in 1954. There is nothing beyond it,” Shukkur said.
Claiming that writing a Will is not a solution, Shukkur says he and his wife must have absolute rights over their properties, and their children must inherit their wealth.
“Will or inheritance deed must have many limitations,” he added.