A Community in Turmoil
As most complex communal controversies do, it started out as a mere trifle. Tucked away in the Byzantine confines of the old, princely city of Indore, there lives a 73-year-old woman called Shah Bano. Ten years ago, when her prosperous lawyer-husband divorced her in the traditional Muslim way after 43 years of marriage, she did a most unusual thing: She went to court seeking a small maintenance to feed herself. Today, she is making history. Her search for a small sustenance has led to an unprecedented Islamic resurgence not seen in the country for decades. It has rendered the Muslims a troubled, tormented community, torn by a serious internal schism between the vocal fundamentalists and subdued but determined liberal minority. More vitally, it threatens to upset the electoral equations on which the arithmetic of national politics has been based since Independence.
Not since pork-and-beef fat-smeared cartridges caused the great upheaval of 1857 has a single non-political act caused so much trauma, fear and indignation among a community. Claiming that the Supreme Court judgment, granting Shah Bano Rs 500 a month as maintenance from her husband, was a sacrilege as it amounted to interference in the Shariat law, ulemas raised the cry of “Islam in danger”. Muslims came out in lakhs across the country, chanting “Shariat bachao”.
“For Muslims, the imminent danger is to their culture and identity, not to their lives and property,” said Maulana Abul Lais, emir of Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind, summing up the new fear campaign. And if communal Muslim groups protested across India by burning effigies of former Supreme Court chief justice Y.V. Chandrachud, the author of the controversial judgement, Hindu Mahasabha retaliated by handing out the same treatment to effigies of Maulana Ziaur Rahman Ansari, Union MOS for environment, who leads the fundamentalist charge within Congress (I).
Nothing else, neither the recurring tragedy of communal riots nor the trauma of economic deprivation, had ever caused such turbulence before. From the miserly shikara owner in Srinagar to the prosperous Gulf-returnee in Kerala’s Mallapuram, from the harried Bengali-speaking immigrant in Assam to the insular Memon in Kutch, the controversy has cut into the innermost core of the Muslim religious identity. INDIA TODAY, JANUARY 31, 1986
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