Scrap Triple Talaq, Polygamy
Rather than an attack on minority rights, this is a prerequisite for their protection
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?
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