Gender justice within the Muslim community will be achieved primarily by the struggle of Muslim women, of course with the support of democratic institutions. Politicisation of the issue to score brownie political points will harm the cause of Muslim women.
Heightened media coverage on the issue of triple talaq along with the statement of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister of UP Yogi Adityanath is causing harm to the struggle for gender justice within the Muslim community. Media coverage is making a public spectacle of victims of triple talaq and encouraging voyeurism for TRPs. Media manages to get a “maulvi” of dubious repute for giving sound entertaining sound bites that make buffoon of the community.
Gender justice within the Muslim community will be achieved primarily by the struggle of Muslim women, of course with the support of democratic institutions. Politicization of the issue to score brownie political points will harm the cause of Muslim women. What Muslim women need is solidarity and support from the feminist movement in particular and liberal democratic forces in general.
Pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ (I divorce thee) thrice in one sitting and instantly snapping matrimonial ties unilaterally by the husband is once again in news as the Supreme Court is going to hear Shayara Bano’s petition on the issue and the PM has chosen to speak on the issue. This form of divorce is called talaq-e-bidat (bad in theology but valid divorce) and popularly it is called as triple talaq.
The ulema (learned religious leaders of the community) have validated triple talaq pronounced orally, even if in a fit of rage, in a state of inebriation, or conveyed on phone, through sms, or through post. The wife so divorced is instantly evicted from her matrimonial home or if not in the house at the time of divorce, she is prevented from accessing her matrimonial home and children.
The practice is abominable and indefensible. Yet the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has claimed in their affidavit that triple talaq is part of shari’a law which is divine and it is their Constitutional right to practice their religion. Elsewhere, we have elaborately argued that triple talaq in one sitting is unconstitutional as well as contrary to the Quranic method of divorce and prayed that Hon’ble Supreme Court read down the provision (Engineer, 2016).
Protectors of Muslim Women
The PM chose to speak on the issue of triple talaq at the BJP’s National Executive meeting in Bhubaneshwar on 16th April 2017. He said, “Our Muslim sisters should also get justice. Injustice should not be done with them… [I]f there are social evils, the society should be woken up and efforts made to provide justice to the victims.”
The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said on 17th April 2017 that those maintaining silence on the “burning issue” of triple talaq were as “guilty” as those practising it. Yogi compared the triple talaq to the disrobing of ‘Draupadi’ in the Mahabharata. He also called for a uniform civil code in the country.
Both, the PM and the CM of UP, are trying to project themselves as protectors of Muslim women from the evil and inhuman Muslim Personal Law. However both have a lot to answer for, given their past.
Under the watch of Modi, when he was the CM of Gujarat, in 2002, during the riots, Muslim women’s bodies were the site on which sexual assaults were mounted and they were subjected to worst inhuman atrocities. Neither of them then had any feeling of remorse nor an urge to fight the injustice. Modi, then the CM of Gujarat had to be reminded of his raj dharm by the then PM – Atal Behari Vajpayee of their party. Gujarat government refused to organize any relief work for the 150,000 survivors of the violence huddled in inhuman conditions in various relief camps.
The UP CM in a video on youtube says that if one Hindu woman was married to a Muslim and converted, 100 Muslim women would be married to Hindu men and converted into Hindu fold!
Of destruction of wombs and liberation of Muslim women
In 2002 during communal riots in Gujarat, the Hindu supremacists who mounted sexual assaults and heinous crimes on Muslim women’s bodies did so to pollute or destroy the wombs of Muslim women that gave birth to children of Muslim community (International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat, 2003, pp. 40-41). Now they are posing as liberators of Muslim women from the oppression of their men.
Modi then had sort of provided justification of the riots by terming it as a reaction to burning of Sabarmati Express in Godhra. Thereafter he never expressed his remorse that under his watch the scale of violence had reached its peak. Those who were accused of rapes and involvement in riots had little to fear the judicial process and were being acquitted until the Supreme Court stepped in and set up SIT to prosecute the accused. Bilkis Bano’s rape case trial was transferred to sessions court in Mumbai which resulted in conviction of some of the accused.
Behind the facade of getting justice for the Muslim women in general and victims of triple talaq in particular, the BJP has political motives. When the PM and the CM of UP were not on the posts they are presently holding, they stigmatized the Muslim community in harsher words using cruder language.
In the year 2002, after the riots Narendra Modi took out Gujarat gaurav yatra (pride journey). In the yatra he would address public meeting during and accuse that relief camps for riot survivors to be breeding camps where the survivors were breeding like rabbits. In the next Gujarat state Assembly elections, the target of the Modi’s speeches was “Mian Musharraf (the then President of Pakistan) mentality”! The subtle message was that Muslims were loyal to Pakistan and needed to be taught a lesson.
Posing as protectors of Muslim women, Modi and Yogi are achieving the same objective with more sophisticated means – stigmatising the Muslim community as one having unjust traditions and women in the Muslim community are being disrobed. General Secretary of Hindu Mahasabha – Pooja Shakun Pandey went a step ahead and asked all victims of triple talaq to convert to Hinduism and she would organise their marriage and do their kanyadaan (ritual of father gifting his daughter to the bridegroom).
The Hindu supremacists then want to convert Muslim women and gift (marry) them off to Hindu men to improve their demographic figures and reduce those of Muslim community. Rescue Muslim women only to gift them off and be property of Hindu men. Hindu supremacists opposed the Hindu Code Bill in 1950s so painstakingly drafted by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar to ensure gender justice to Hindu women. Hindu supremacists organized militant protests and denounced Dr. Ambedkar as an untouchable drafting laws for Hindus.
The Hindu supremacists do not problematise dowry, child marriage, female feoticide etc. Given caste hierarchies, Hindu supremacists defend the parental control over their daughters in matrimonial matters. They have never raised any voice against honour killings when daughters dare to chose their own life partners. “Anti-Romeo” squads and “love jihad” campaigns are precisely to ensure that Hindu women do not choose their life partners and do not have freedom to wear the clothes they like.
Ministers in the present government have advised women to wear appropriate (traditional) dresses to be secure from sexual assaults instead of ensuring safe space for women and inclusion in every field. BJP MP – Sakshi Maharaj and RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat called upon Hindu women to produce 4 children reducing the women to child producing machines for their husbands and their community.
Hindu supremacists are not very different from the religious and political leaders of Muslim community with regard to their attitude towards worth and role of women in family and community – chattels or property of the males within the family and under their complete control; slave labourers for the family confined to home for unpaid domestic work, rearing children for men; labouring outside home if men need their incomes; confine them to religious spaces so that they are indoctrinated to serve the men in the family and accept being reduced to chattels and slaves.
Triple talaq is one such weapon in hands of Muslim men to keep control over “deviant” wives. Khap Panchayats, domestic violence and misogynist culture are weapons of Hindu men. Strategies and instruments of control may differ slightly but nevertheless their objective is to control and reduce women to chattels and slave labourers and objects of sexual pleasure for men. Hindu supremacist talk of “liberating” Muslim women, but only to enslave them to new masters – Hindu men. The feminist movement and awareness and resistance of women – both – Hindu and Muslim have changed the situation slightly and progressively.
Media and stigmatization of Muslim community
Media has been presented with an opportunity to increase their TRPs whenever issues that stigmatise Muslim community are handy. TV channels a few years ago ran extensive coverage of a fatwa which declared that Imrana who was raped by her father-in-law is now forbidden to her husband. It seemed that was the only problem faced by the nation – otherwise everything was hunky dory.
One TV channel made a public spectacle of Gudiya’s problems and coverage went on for hours. Gudiya, a Muslim, married another man after her soldier husband’s whereabouts were not known for some years and presumed dead in war with Pakistan. However, her former husband returned after he was released from Pakistan jail. “Gudiya kiski?” went the title of the programme. All relatives, maulvis, the second husband and former soldier husband and few others were assembled in the studio and public spectacle was made of her life encouraging voyeurism.
Almost all TV channels have similarly conducted talk shows on triple talaq – they got some victims to depose their tragedies, one or two maulvis to entertain their viewers with their ridiculous and provocative views supporting triple talaq and a few gentlemen around. The Islamic scholars who did not support triple talaq were obviously not favoured by invitation.
The stage was then set for a match between the victims and the maulvis with some generous support from ‘nationalist’ anchors. The lung match between Muslim women and maulvis would be good spectacle attracting eyeballs of male voyeurs into a problem of Muslims and beam them various advertisements persuading them to buy various corporate products.
The louder and angrier the fight between the victims and maulvis, more would be the entertainment and fun for the voyeurs. The BJP spokespersons would be there on the panel to represent the PM and Yogi as heroes of the nation liberating Muslim women. Perhaps that is why the media loves the PM and Yogi as they keep giving them such opportunities targeting left and liberal “anti-nationals”, cow slaughterers, terrorists, Kashmir separatist and Paki agents, religious converters.
Democracy and humanist values be damned so long as the voyeuristic media had their TRPs, they would support whatever politics! Is this the responsible fourth pillar of the state?
If stigmatising the Muslim community is one objective of Modi and Yogi, subtly establishing the superiority of Hindu community, the other political objective is to divide the Muslim community along gender lines. They have also tried to win over a section of Shias and Sufis. The political objective as spelled out by Subramanian Swamy once is to divide the Muslim community and unite the Hindus to achieve the objective of Hindu Rashtra – antithesis of democracy.
The Muslim Personal Law Board
Cornered by the media barrage and becoming a laughing stock for defending triple talaq and claiming it to inseparable part of divine Shari’a law, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has come up with a new subterfuge. On 16th April it issued a code of conduct and warned that those who give talaq (divorce) without ‘Sharia’ reasons will face social boycott.
The ruse of social boycott is more for media consumption than a sincere campaign to curb the menace of triple talaq. Had the Board been sincere, it would not have filed atrocious affidavit in Supreme Court completely against the spirit of Quran which gives dignity and rights to women. Board’s affidavit reduces women to a status of chattel and a slave, unintelligent being.
This ploy of social boycott has occurred to them after 70 years of resisting any change in the Muslim Personal Law and ignoring the plight of victims of triple talaq. The Board has clout and power enough to silence the women suffering oppression and scaring them with curse of Allah. However, they do not have clout or sincerity to enforce social boycott against powerful men.
Declaring, announcing and enforcing social boycott is also an offence in Maharashtra. Social boycott of the husband who has pronounced triple talaq is not going to give any relief to the woman thrown out of her matrimonial home. If a man has divorced by pronouncing the dreaded words in a fit of anger or under inebriation and repents the morning after, will be doubly punished by social boycott if enforced or enforceable without offering any relief to either.
The only remedy in the circumstances seems to be to educate the women and men that any number of pronouncement of the word talaq can be considered as single pronouncement followed by arbitration and efforts for reconciliation. This is the procedure prescribed by the Holy Qur’an.
The Board should agree to codify Muslim Personal Law within the framework of Quran and the spirit of gender equality mandated by Quran and drawing the best from all Islamic schools of jurisprudence. The codified law should be presented to the Parliament for being legislated.
Until the codification, Indian courts have a constitutional duty to ensure justice and equality to Muslim women and read down the provisions of various Islamic schools of jurisprudence like Hanafi, Hanbali, Shafi, Maliki, Ahle-Hadith and Shia schools of jurisprudence that are against the constitutional mandate.
Political parties will do great disservice to the country and the Muslim community by politicisation of the issue either in the name of national integration or demography or on any other ground. Peace and justice are more noble goals than winning an election or benefiting from communal polarisation.