By Amulya Ganguli
The day before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) waxed eloquent on the triple talaq bill in parliament, saffron bullies confronted a group of Muslims offering namaz (prayers) at a park in Noida, UP.
The attitude of the storm-troopers was both mocking and threatening. Today you are offering namaz, tomorrow you will build a mosque here, they said jeeringly to the obviously intimidated Muslims.
The BJP’s television warriors supported the saffronites during a debate on the subject, arguing that permission has to be taken before “occupying” a public place.
Where the BJP and the Sangh parivar are concerned, there is no question of showering petals from helicopters on the namazis as was done in UP on the kanwariyas or the worshippers of Lord Shiva as they marched along the roads and highways with or without formal permission.
These contrasting attitudes of the party in power at the centre towards Hindu and Muslim devotees – lenience towards the former and sternness towards the Muslims – do not conform to the BJP’s outpouring of concern for the Muslim women who may be victims of the admittedly ludicrous and abhorrent practice of Muslim men summarily divorcing their wives on flimsy grounds.
If the BJP is genuinely concerned about the welfare of Muslim women, its feelings of benevolence and sympathy should be reflected in its attitude towards the entire community and not only towards a particular section.
Since this isn’t the case as the vituperation directed at Muslims by the trolls shows, along with the advice of saffron stalwarts like Vinay Katiyar who want the Muslims to leave India for Pakistan or Bangladesh, or the urging of a BJP MP to dig up the Jama Masjid to uncover the hidden temples, the suspicion wiill be that the BJP’s focus on the triple talaq issue is guided more by political than humane, gender-based considerations.
The party’s calculation apparently is that since the Muslims as a whole are unlikely to vote for it in view of the parivar’s nine-decade-long preference for a Hindu rashtra, it can be politically useful to wean away at least some of the women.
Another objective of the party is to offer a Hobson’s choice to its opponents where opposing the bill will depict them as anti-women while supporting it will mean meekly endorsing their adversary, the BJP’s stance, much to its delight.
For the present, sections of the opposition evaded the trap by walking out of the Lok Sabha before the voting took place. But the issue will come up again in the Rajya Sabha where a clear-cut stance will have to be taken.
As of now, the opposition wants the bill to be sent to a joint select committee since some of the provisions need to be modified, especially the one relating to criminalising the “offence” of divorcing the wife.
Undoubtedly, this is the sticking point, for it is absurd to criminally prosecute a man for a divorce even if his act is whimsical and has no sanction even in other Muslim countries. For such a practice to be prevalent only in India brings no glory to the Muslims.
Ideally, the “reform” in this respect should have come from within the community. However, since the organisations which claim to look after the Muslim interests in India had taken no interest in the matter all these years, it had to be left to the Supreme Court to ban the practice of triple talaq although it did not call for a law.
If the BJP has favoured the legal process, it is for two reasons – both political. One is to look for votes by championing the cause of women’s empowerment, and the other is to send a message to the Muslims (and other minorities) that the present government will not hesitate – unlike its “secular” predecessors – to legislate in matters which fall within the purview of their personal laws even if the triple talaq issue is little short of an outrage which should have been ended long ago.
If the “secular” governments had been hesitant in this regard, the reason undoubtedly was that they were unwilling to interfere in the affairs of a community which suffered from a guilt complex for having caused the country’s partition – a “sin” for which they were accused of being unpatriotic, especially by the Hindu Right.
However, now that a Hindu nationalist government has done what the Left-Liberals were reluctant to do, the latter can rectify some of their earlier lapses such as overturning the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case on maintenance for divorced women and help in fine-tuning the triple talaq legislation in a manner which will make it acceptable to the political class as a whole.
The BJP’s defeats in the Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh elections have shown that the triple talaq issue hasn’t been of much help to the party. If it has now rushed through the bill in the Lok Sabha, it is perhaps with the general election in mind.
However, the endeavour of all parties should be to keep the matter as far above politics as possible and ensure that the new law does not penalise either men or the women or the children of divorced parents.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])