Triple Talaq Issue: Crocodile tears for Muslim women
Neither the PM, shedding false tears over the ‘triple talaq issue’, nor the AIMPLB has any moral right to speak for Indian Muslim women, who are a ‘double minority’
Sanober Umar Delhi
The ugly patriarchal politics of ‘triple talaq’ or unilateral instant divorces accorded to Indian Muslim women by Muslim men (specifically Sunnis who follow the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence) through pronouncing the word talaq thrice in a single sentence has reared its head again in mainstream politics. In this board game played over Muslim women you have two main players. On the one hand you have the ever-so-vocal and self-proclaimed representatives of Muslims, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), and on the other you have right-wing public figures of Hindutva including Prime Minister Narendra Modi shedding tears for Muslim women’s rights.
However, Muslim women should not be deemed agentless victims in this plot, and many are raising their voice against this practice by asserting their Koranic rights. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasise that while AIMPLB and Hindutva politics may seem to be two ends of a pole, the two have much more in common when it comes to curbing or denying Muslim women their rights than meets the eye. While the male-dominated AIMPLB is clearly vested in its project of misogyny even at the cost of denying Muslim women their Islamic right to longer procedures of divorce that allow for time and space for reasonable consideration before annulling a marriage, Hindutva men are no saviours of Muslim women either as many instances, including the recent spate of rapes and murders (such as the Haryana rapes and murders by Gau Rakshaks and, not to forget, the horrifying Muzaffarnagar riots not too long ago), have shown.
Misogynists from the AIMPLB continue to slander these individual Muslim activists and organisations such as Bazmee Khwateen, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan and the All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board, calling them deplorable names in a nasty bid to override their legitimate demands. Even when these men from the Ulema concede that the demands of these women are within the Islamic tradition, they still insist on keeping an anti-women tradition alive as the self-assigned representatives of the Indian Muslim community in India
The kind of divorce proceedings the AIMPLB vociferously supports is not only not followed by various sects among Muslims (including the second largest sect of Indian Muslims, the Shias), but 21 other countries, including Muslim-dominant societies such as Algeria, Turkey and Bangladesh, have abolished regressive practices such as triple talaq. It is important to listen to what Indian Muslim women have to say about their needs and rights, and how they are articulating it. Many directly seek guidance and justice through recourse to the Koran, in effect not turning necessarily to a secular cosmology for their rights but one that they maintain their religion already guarantees them. However, more than 50,000 women have been compelled to petition the courts for justice that they derive from their religion due to the unethical high-handedness of Muslim patriarchs. Misogynists from the AIMPLB continue to slander these individual Muslim activists and organisations such as Bazmee Khwateen, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan and the All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board, calling them deplorable names in a nasty bid to override their legitimate demands. Even when these men from the Ulema concede that the demands of these women are within the Islamic tradition, they still insist on keeping an anti-women tradition alive as the self-assigned representatives of the Indian Muslim community in India.
However, here is where an even more important question arises: who gave the AIMPLB the right to declare itself the spokesperson for the Muslim community?
It comes as a surprise to many that the AIMPLB is just an NGO. It does not hold any power by itself in relation to the state. It has managed to garner popular support since the 1985 Shah Bano case, which many have noted transpired in a context where the Congress party which was in power at the centre at the time, overlooked the voices of progressive and reformist Muslims. Not a single member of the AIMPLB has been democratically elected. It is a body of mostly handpicked Muslim men who join the ranks simply based on their self-projection as scholars of Islam or social connections, with a large following of poor Muslims, many of whom are too illiterate to even know the depths of debates and dialogues of their own faith and follow whatever these imams have to say, especially at a time when they feel vulnerable in an increasingly radicalised Hindutva atmosphere.
The Indian State has historically been conspicuously active in erasing Muslim women’s rights by according a degree of legitimacy to the AIMPLB. But it can be overridden easily if the State chooses to do so, especially given how Muslim women’s rights are being evaded in such blatant fashion and against their constitutional rights as Indian citizens.
Modi, in a recent speech during which he shed tears, said that the Muslim community must come together and discuss this issue to guarantee rights for women facing misogynistic oppression through laws like triple talaq. One may certainly agree with our Prime Minister on this point. But the politics of Muslim marginalisation in India is interwoven with Hindutva demonisation of the community, including positing themselves as being the bastions of women’s rights when the truth is far from it. One cannot help but wonder why our Prime Minister remains silent when Muslim women suffer violence by Hindu right-wingers? Muslim women have been brutally tortured and killed in several riots by Hindus since Modi came to power. Justice still remains to be provided for the women victims of Gujarat, Muzaffarnagar and Haryana. It should not come as a surprise then that many within the Muslim community have noted this hypocrisy and taken it to social media, reminding our Prime Minister of his silence in cases such as the Mewat rapes, the trauma that Bilkis Bano and several other women underwent during the Gujarat riots, Insha Malik losing her vision during peaceful protests or JNU student Najeeb Ahmad’s mother still searching for her son who disappeared after ABVP goons beat him up.
Muslim women’s rights by according a degree of legitimacy to the AIMPLB. But it can be overridden easily if the State chooses to do so, especially given how Muslim women’s rights are being evaded in such blatant fashion and against their constitutional rights as Indian citizens
The AIMPLB uses Modi’s tears to leverage its claims that the State wants to infringe on the community’s collective identity, but does not care about its interests or about intervening in other situations that demand institutional inclusion and protection of minorities.However, now that Modi is on board over the rights of women by expressing concern especially for minority Muslim women, one would hope that our PM would extend the same empathy to his own wife, Jashodaben, whom he abandoned after marriage.
After all, the personal is political, as many feminists have observed, and he would set a good example for men and women in the country with such a gesture of kindness towards women in his personal life.