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Divide and Delude

Criminalising triple talaq is a clever ploy to divide Muslims and the opposition.


On New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that his government had ensured that Indian Muslim women could now travel to Mecca for Haj on their own without a male escort. This was yet another instance of embroidering the truth. Or rather, a plain lie. In 2015, the Saudi Arabian government altered the rules for women travelling for Haj and said that those over the age of 45 did not have to be accompanied by a man as long as they formed a group of four. No government can decide the rules for entry into another country and in this case it is Saudi Arabia that decides. The fiction apart, what explains Modi’s and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) sudden concern for the welfare of Muslim women, particularly when it has been silent about the problems Muslim men have faced in the name of the cow ever since it came to power?

The justification for the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, a law that criminalises the act of instant divorce, introduced and passed without debate in the Lok Sabha, is apparently an extension of this same concern. If that concern were genuine, how is it that the very Muslim women’s groups, demanding a ban on instant triple talaq or “talaq-e-bidat” followed by one section of Indian Muslims were not consulted in the formulation of the law? Indeed a few weeks before the law was tabled, one of the groups that had been party to the case in the Supreme Court urged for wider consultation before the law was finalised. The group voiced its opposition to making the practice of instant triple talaq a criminal offence and pointed out that previous laws concerning women had always been preceded by wide consultation with concerned groups. It concluded that “since marriage is a civil contract between two adult persons, the procedure to be followed on violation of this contract needs to be civil in nature, and one which strengthens the woman, instead of making her more vulnerable.”

Given this, what was the urgent need to pass the law when in August, in a case filed by these same groups and several Muslim women, the majority judgment of the Court had already declared this form of divorce illegal? And even if a law was needed, as recommended in the non-binding minority judgment in this case, why a criminal law to deal with a civil matter? Were no civil remedies possible? Was such a possibility even explored?

One is then compelled to conclude that the government’s motives were far from altruistic towards Muslim women and instead based on shrewd political calculations. Clearly, it is advantageous to the BJP to appeal directly to Muslim women, thereby dividing the community. Predictably, the Muslim clergy has come out against the bill, the same people who paid little heed to the pleadings of Muslim women that steps be taken to abolish instant divorce. As a result, you now have on one side a genuine grievance of Muslim women who have had to face the consequences of a form of divorce that leaves them with no choice, and on the other, you have a political party with no real interest in the larger needs and rights of the community that chooses to address this single issue.

It is evident that this political ploy is already working. No political party raised its voice to oppose the bill criminalising instant divorce. Clearly, no opposition party, including the Congress can be seen to be anti-Muslim women and pro- Muslim men. When you reduce the issue to “saving” Muslim women from their men, there is little space for opposition. And the fact that this also demonises the religion is a convenient by-product for the BJP.

What continues to be forgotten is that it is Muslim women who raised the issue of instant triple talaq, not this government. They turned to the courts to challenge it on the grounds of denial of their fundamental rights as Indian citizens. And they won. They did not ask for it to be criminalised. Now these groups are in a bind. On the one hand, they know that many Muslim women will be glad that there is a stringent law and hope that it will act as a deterrent. On the other, they must know that the law has many flaws, that it does not deal with the question of maintenance, and that it completely rules out any possibility of reconciliation when the man is sent to jail. Such a drastic measure could boomerang on the women. Police would now have the power to act even on a third-party complaint against a Muslim man. As several legal experts have pointed out, far from stopping the practice, it is likely that men will simply abandon their wives without pronouncing talaq.

In the end, it is the cynicism of this entire exercise that is distressing. A party that has no interest in the welfare of Muslims, that has excluded them from its electoral plans, that does not stop the hate speech and hate-filled actions of its members against Muslims, is selling us the idea that it cares for Muslim women.

Updated On : 9th Jan, 2018


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