It seems like an oxymoron of sorts when the Bharatiya Janata Party decides to become a crusader of Muslim women’s rights, an irony considering the brickbats, lynching, demonizing going on in the name of the community.
You feel the communal toxins in the air, one feels it in one’s bones. One switches on the television sets and all one gets to see is vilification of Muslims – they are being called ‘Rohingya bhai’ Pakistani, infiltrators, ISI agent and the list goes on. Panel discussions streamed live begin under the garb of political discussion but end up being communal discussions with the Muslim being at the receiving end most of the time.
With vitriol being spewed day in and day out, it comes as a cruel joke when the BJP government decides to take up the cudgels for the plight of the poor, victimized Muslim woman.
So, are Muslim women victims? My answer to that is: definitely they are, just like Hindu women.
Patriarchy, parochialism and domestic violence have no religion.
Just yesterday a picture had gone viral about Hindu women from Rajasthan who are made to drink water from their husbands’ shoes since times immemorial.
So while the media goes berserk debating ‘Triple Talaq’ and ‘Nikah Halala’, it makes sense to look up on the statistics of the malady that is taking India by storm.
Among all nations of antiquity, Islam was perhaps the first religion in the world which has recognized the termination of marriage by way of divorce, considering that in England divorce was given sanction only a hundred years ago. Among the Hindus, it was allowed only by Hindu Marriage Act 1955.
Prophet Muhammad has termed “divorce” as the most hateful act before the Almighty God which wreaks havoc on the family and children and even towards the end of life he forbade the practice by men without intervention of an arbiter or a judge.
So while Prophet Muhammad restrained the power of divorce and gave Muslim women the right of obtaining the separation on reasonable grounds, he is believed to have said: “If a woman be prejudiced by a marriage, let it be broken off”.
In modern times, as personal laws started getting codified and they remained within the orbit of Islamic law, slowly control over the norms shifted from traditional jurists to the state.
Considering that the media is obsessed with ‘Nikah Halala’ and ‘Triple Talaq’ these days, laypersons not versed with politics and personal laws will question whether divorce among Muslim couples has indeed increased with alarming alacrity or are they only highlighting issues which are technically negligible.
Though polygamy is allowed under Islam I am yet to meet a civilized Muslim man who co habits with two wives; infidelity and bigamy is a common phenomenon among married couples across all communities whether personal laws allow the practice or not. We have heard ‘Bollywood gossip’ about a few couples like Dharmendra and Hema Malini and others who supposedly embraced Islam just to get the marriage sanctioned, as Dharmendra was already a married man when he fell in love with Hema Malini.
A few days ago Congress President Mr Rahul Gandhi wrote a letter to the PM requesting him to pass the much awaited and delayed ‘Women’s Reservation Bill’ in the Parliament, stating that the bill has been stalled in the Lok Sabha for over eight years. The Law Minister countered the proposal by offering the Congress a ‘new deal for women’ by also criminalizing ‘Triple Talaq’ and ‘Nikah Halala’ making all three issues a political slugfest which further reiterated that both the parties are really not interested in women’s welfare as each one was merely trying to score a political brownie point over the other.
As a woman who has advocated equity and justice and has supported all progressive laws, I too advocated for instant Triple Talaq to be abolished in 2017 and campaigned for the cause for years; the question is not the numbers, the point is that even if one in a ten thousand Muslim man has pronounced instant Triple Talaq and deserted the woman and child, this draconian practice should have no place in a civilized country like India.
Last year in August 2017 India’s Supreme Court banned instant Triple Talaq calling it unconstitutional. One needs to understand, that firstly there was never anything as the ‘instant Triple Talaq’ under the Islamic shariat. In Islam, there is a provision for Triple Talaq in which the divorce process is deferred in many cases over a period of three months.
We need to also take into account that most Muslim countries, including Pakistan had anyway done away with the retrograde practice.
According to the Hanfi school of thought, if a Muslim man pronounces “Talaq” three times in a single utterance, the pronouncement is deemed as a divorce. However the other schools of Islamic thoughts oppose this and say that even if a man pronounces “Talaq” a thousand times in a day, it will still be considered as “one” instead of “three”.
With the banning of instant Triple Talaq, India joined the league of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Cyprus, Tunisia, Algeria, Malaysian state of Sarawak, Iran, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Indonesia, UAE, Qatar, Sudan, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Brunei and Malaysia who have long done away with this retrograde practice.
We also need to deliberate upon the fact that in a progressive society there has to be an option of an impending divorce to be dissolved amicably for a couple who want to end the marriage for various reasons, and therefore if we end up criminalizing ‘Triple Talaq’, an unhappy couple may be coerced to stay in an incompatible marriage.
The criminalizing of ‘Triple Talaq’ exposes the loose ends in our legal framework.
Last year, the attorney general had informed the Supreme Court that the Parliament would enact a law laying down grounds on which Muslim men can divorce their wives. However, the Muslim Women (Protection Of Rights On Marriage) Bill 2017 fails to address this point; rather it criminalises ‘Triple Talaq’.
The equation between a man and a woman should not be criminalised, rather the process and dissolution of marriage should remain a civil process. However, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights On Marriage) Bill 2017 blurs the line between civil and criminal law. Private wrongs have largely remained non cognizable offences, and in the case of a cognizable offence the police have the license to put a Muslim man in jail even if the wife hasn’t filed a complaint. Hope this shoddily drafted law does not incur a rollback exactly the way they have rolled back 12 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on sanitary napkins recently.
The ruling BJP government has used a smart tactic of diverting the attention away from core people’s issues and their complete failure in resolving them by engaging in Hindu-Muslim banter, by instigating public against the ‘other’. So, while the nation could have focused on the failure of the BJP-PDP alliance and the complete breakdown of law and order in the Valley, the government of the day tried diverting the attention of the public by debating on “surgical strike proof”.
Everywhere, one sees that the BJP government has ensured that there remains a cacophony around Muslims; the Muslim man in particular seems to be the favourite whipping boy of the BJP, which makes us wonder whether the BJP really is interested in getting the Muslim community in the mainstream.
Pretending to be a saviour of Muslim women and in the same breath garlanding mob lynchers of Muslim men is not the way one takes a community forward. Either one takes the entire community with them that has long lived in the fringes and whose socio-political situation is considered worse than the dalits, or, one needs to stop using ‘Muslim men’ as scapegoats to deflect public attention away from core issues.
While the BJP consistently gives a surreptitious message to the country that Muslims are second class citizens and the country has no place for a Muslim hero, the BJP brigade’s concerted efforts to empower Muslim women comes across as a farce considering that India has been termed as the most dangerous country for women according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The BJP government has blood on its hands as far as the rape and murder of the minor girl in Kathua is concerned. While the case came to light months after the gruesome tragedy, we need to also recount the BJP legislators who were caught marching in support of the rapists in Jammu, tiranga in hand and more recently Advocate Aseem Sawhney who defended the accused in the Kathua tragedy was elevated as the additional advocate general of Jammu and Kashmir. All this conveys a lot as far as emancipation and justice for Muslim women are concerned.
It’s time the BJP walked the talk if they are indeed serious about empowering the women in India which includes Muslim women. There is a lot that needs to be done in terms of gender justice, violence against women, women’s emancipation of all women, considering our society is still infested by evils like female infanticide, dowry deaths, domestic violence, acid victimization, rapes and assault on women.
[The views expressed belong solely to the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the editorial team]
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