“Dalwai prepared the groundwork for reforms in Muslim society. He was wrongly labelled as anti-Islam. He was against orthodoxy and strove to get personal laws secularized,“ said Pune-based Professor Shamshuddin Tamboli, president, Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal (Muslim Truth Seeking Society), the body Dalwai founded on March 22, 1970.
Four years before he founded the Mandal, Dalwai had hit the headlines on April 18, 1966, by leading a march of Muslim women to Mantralaya, protesting against gender injustice. “Zubani talaq band karo (stop oral divorce) was among the slogans these women raised. Dalwai met the then chief minister Vasantrao Naik and handed over a memorandum which demanded a ban on triple talaq, polygamy and halala nikah,“ recalled Tamboli.
Born near Chiplun in Ratnagiri district, Dalwai came under the influence of reformist Sane Guruji’s Rashtra Seva Dal early in life. A college dropout, he devoured books–fiction, short stories, on women and civil rights and everything between them. He became a firebrand Marathi writer and orator. During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, noted Marathi litterateur and journalist Acharya Atre sent Dalwai to report from the border for his daily “Maratha“. “His formative years were spent in the company of the likes of Atre and Vijay Tendulkar. He imbibed a crusading spirit and railed against injustice to women,“ said Dalwai’s younger brother and Raja Sabha member Hussain Dalwai. Dalwai’s Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal and Indian Secular Society (founded in 1968) continued to mount pressure on government to bring in reforms and introduce a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). He would hold protests, conventions and conferences almost on a daily basis. His activities eventually left the Muslim clergy feeling threatened; they convened a meeting in Mumbai on December 27-28, 1972 to discuss how to fight the “nuisance“ called Hamid Dalwai and protect Personal Laws. Subsequently on April 71, 1973, Muslims formally es tablished the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) at a meeting in Hyderabad. “It is wrong to say that the AIMPLB was established in answer to Hamid Dalwai’s movements. Yes, he organised protests but the Muslims felt threats to their personal laws through other sources as well,“ said Islamic scholar Prof Akhtarul Wasey who had attended the Mumbai meet in December 1972.
Many scholars have paid homage to Dalwai’s progressive vision for the community including historian Ramachandra Guha who included him in his book “Makers of Modern India“. Commentator V K Sinha, in an introduction to Dalwai’s “Muslim Politics in India“ writes, “Dalwai’s sharp barbs directed against the Muslim orthodoxy may comfort the Hindu fundamentalists. However, they would be mistaken. Dalwai’s arguments are equally applicable to the Hindu community . “I attack all aspects of medieval religious obscurantism,“ he wrote, “whether it is Muslim or Hindu.
“Of the many tributes paid to him when he passed away on May 3, 1977, one of them is significant. The then Minister of External Affairs said Hindus too needed a Dalwai. The concerned minister was Atal Bihari Vajpayee.“