Scrap Triple Talaq, Polygamy

Rather than an at­tack on mi­nor­ity rights, this is a pre­req­ui­site for their pro­tec­tion

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - T K Arun

When the gov­ern­ment files its re­sponse to the Supreme Court on a plea by Sha­yara Bano, a Mus­lim woman from Ut­tarak­hand, to in­val­i­date the prac­tice of Mus­lim men per­form­ing di­vorce by the sim­ple ex­pe­di­ent of pro­nounc­ing talaq three times, it should ac­cept the plea.

There will be howls of protest, but such de­fence of Mus­lim women’s demo­cratic rights is essen­tial for the de­fence of In­dia’s mi­nori­ties from ma­jori­tar­ian at­tack.

This might seem con­tra­dic­tory. How does re­moval of triple talaq, seen by most Mus­lims (or, at least, Mus­lim men) as an in­te­gral part of their right to prac­tise their faith, pro­tect Mus­lims, in­stead of fur­ther shrink­ing their space?

Democ­racy Un­der­pins…

Pro­tec­tion of mi­nor­ity rights, in In­dia, is em­bed­ded in democ­racy. It is easy to over­look the sig­nif­i­cance of this. The pro­tec­tion of mi­nor­ity rights in In­de­pen­dent In­dia is very dif­fer­ent from, say, the right the King of Cochin gave Jews, Chris­tians and Mus­lims to live in his king­dom and prac­tise their faith as they chose.

In poly­the­is­tic Hindu cul­ture, the­o­log­i­cal de­viance does not ex­ist. Any kind of pur­suit of spir­i­tu­al­ity is deemed valid, given the ex­treme va­ri­ety within Hin­duism it­self. This made it easy, even nat­u­ral, for Hindu kings to treat their non-Hindu sub­jects as a self-con­tained com­mu­nity or com­mu­ni­ties with its/their own prac­tices and cus­toms that oth­ers need not in­ter­fere with.

This live and let live phi­los­o­phy is not what un­der­pins the rights of mi­nori­ties in demo­cratic In­dia. We, the peo­ple of In­dia, have given unto our­selves a Con­sti­tu­tion, which guar­an­tees sev­eral fun­da­men­tal rights, in­clud­ing the rights of mi­nori­ties to freely prac­tise and prop­a­gate their re­li­gion, own prop­erty and es­tab­lish places of wor­ship and run ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. These are im­por­tant rights, key to keep­ing In­dia a func­tional democ­racy.

What about re­li­gious and so­cial cus­toms that con­flict with demo­cratic rights to equal­ity and jus­tice? With­out any qual­i­fi­ca­tion, the en­tire might of the state must weigh in on the side of equal­ity and jus­tice against un­just cus­tom and re­li­gious prac­tice. Caste dis­crim­i­na­tion and the prac­tices of Sati, dowry and son pref­er­ence were in­te­gral to Hin­duism for cen­turies, but have no place in a democ­racy.

Triple talaq and polygamy are on a sim­i­lar foot­ing. They have to go, to strengthen democ­racy, which, in turn, will strengthen the demo­cratic rights of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties.

This ar­gu­ment is dif­fer­ent from two other dis­tinct ar­gu­ments that are of­ten put for­ward to de­mand the scrap­ping of triple talaq and polygamy. The first one is based on a read­ing of the Qu­ran, to say that the triple talaq has no place in the Mus­lim holy book and that the Qu­ranic con­di­tions for polygamy are so strin­gent as to make it im­pos­si­ble in mod­ern cir­cum­stances. The sec­ond ar­gu­ment is to de­mand so­cial re­form for Mus­lims, on the ground that in­ter- pre­ta­tions of re­li­gious dicta have to change with the times.

While all three ar­gu­ments seek the com­mon goal of scrap­ping triple talaq and polygamy, their premises are dif­fer­ent and their dis­courses are dif­fer­ent. The lat­ter two can as well take place in a the­o­log­i­cal state, one with lit­tle time for democ­racy.

Whether ar­gu­ments within the frame­work of re­li­gious pro­pri­ety reach a pro­duc­tive con­clu­sion or not, the demo­cratic ar­gu­ment for end­ing the dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lim women in terms of the pro­tec­tion the state grants women within mar­riage and sep­a­ra­tion has to end in re­me­dial ac­tion rather than pro­cras­ti­na­tion. Waf­fle is not an op­tion.

…All Sub­al­tern Rights

Sev­eral Mus­lim lead­ers see in the at­tack on triple talaq and polygamy an at­tack on the sharia and the right of Mus­lims to prac­tise their faith. This is ab­surd. Mus­lims in In­dia suf­fer no spir­i­tual in­jury be­cause the sharia has no place in In­dia’s crim­i­nal ju­rispru­dence. Why should that part of the sharia, of ques­tion­able va­lid­ity even within Is­lamic ju­rispru­dence, which tram­ples on the rights of wo- men be­come the touch­stone of mi­nor­ity rights in this coun­try?

In In­dia, most po­lit­i­cal par­ties, save the BJP, have cho­sen to steer clear of the con­flict be­tween the demo­cratic rights of Mus­lim women and pro­vi­sions of Mus­lim per­sonal law, for fear of an­tag­o­nis­ing Mus­lim vot­ers. Such vac­il­la­tion now hurts mi­nor­ity rights.

The BJP has been a stri­dent critic of triple talaq and polygamy be­cause these come in handy to bash Mus­lims, re­duc­ing whom to sec­ond-class cit­i­zens is the goal of the Sangh Pari­var, of which the BJP is a part. The furore over beef and con­fla­tion of na­tional pride with the iconog­ra­phy of the na­tion as the mother god­dess are ways of get­ting at the Mus­lims.

In such a sce­nario, de­fence of In­dia’s demo­cratic frame­work is the way to de­fend the mi­nori­ties. De­fence of democ­racy en­tails de­fence of the demo­cratic rights of Mus­lim women. Bits of Mus­lim cus­tom and law that vi­o­late democ­racy will have to go, to pro­tect core mi­nor­ity rights. To pre­var­i­cate on this is not just op­por­tunism but to let down the mi­nori­ties.

It’s about mus­ter­ing up selfie-re­spect

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