The Supreme Court’s historic verdict banning triple talaq is both a boost and a challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It’s a boost because the judgement validates his campaign against a pernicious practice that Muslim women have long struggled to get abolished.
It’s a challenge because he must now affirm that he pursued this campaign for the right reasons – to help Muslim women in their fight for gender justice and equity – and not, as is widely perceived, as part of a Hindu majoritarian agenda to further diminish and ghettoise the Muslim community.
The victory on triple talaq rightfully belongs to the thousands of Muslim women who have battled long and hard for protection from instant divorce. But the alacrity with which Modi, Amit Shah and other BJP leaders jumped to appropriate the success raises concerns about the party’s intentions and the government’s next steps.
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Modi Govt Actively Disempowering Muslims
Modi and Shah attempted to be circumspect by hailing the judgement as a landmark step for the empowerment of Muslim women. But there seems be a mismatch between the rhetoric and the politics of polarisation that the BJP practices.
Muslim women can hardly feel empowered in a climate of growing insecurity fuelled by the aggressive and often violent imposition of a majoritarian agenda by saffron stormtroopers.
Nor can they be empowered as long as the community remains steeped in abysmal poverty, as captured by the Sachar Committee report. It is unfortunate that not only is the current dispensation hardly bothered about addressing this, it seems to be actively
disempowering Muslims by shutting down their economic activity through measures like banning beef trade and closing slaughter houses.
Resurrecting Debate on Uniform Civil Code
Even as the top leadership attempts to mask the discourse on triple talaq by linking it to women’s empowerment, the SC judgement has emboldened BJP cheerleaders to resurrect the contentious debate on a uniform civil code.
In fact, BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy was the first off the block to flag the issue. “The next step of the government is to bring a uniform civil code,’’ he told a television channel soon after the court pronounced its verdict.
Significantly, the Supreme Court refrained from pronouncing on the larger issue of personal laws although the government’s legal counsels argued for it.
“We have to be guarded lest we find our conscience traversing into every nook and corner of religious practices and personal law….,’’ said the judgement.
While a detailed decoding of the 300-page judgement is awaited, it does seem that the apex court is reluctant to be dragged into a controversy which rightfully belongs in the political domain.
Concerns Over Bhakts and Trolls
So what will the Modi government do next? Will it use the triple talaq judgement as a springboard to push for a Uniform Civil Code as demanded by its supporters and stormtroopers? Many in the BJP believe that just a debate on the issue can potentially fetch electoral dividends to the party. Anything that provokes Muslims helps to consolidate the Hindu vote and in the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the entire effort of the Sangh parivar will be focused on uniting this vote bank.
Alternatively, the triple talaq judgement could spur the government to push for a legal decision on the Ram Mandir matter that is being heard by the Supreme Court. Swamy is already hard at work to speed up the hearings and press for an early verdict. A favourable judgement for a temple would certainly set the Ganga on fire, at least so the BJP hopes.
There is another worry: The impact of the triple talaq ruling on the ground.
Sections of the Muslim community are concerned that bhakts and trolls may step up harassment, particularly on the issue of polygamy.
The practice of allowing Muslim men to have four wives is a major grouse with Sanghis, who claim that this is the chief reason for a higher birth rate among Muslims as compared to Hindus.
Polygamy could become another stick to beat the men with.
Ball is in Modi’s Court
All these concerns are there. Yet Muslim women feel they have cause to celebrate after the SC verdict on triple talaq. It is a culmination of many years of struggle and nothing is going to dampen their joy.
As Zakia Soman, founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which has been at the forefront of the fight, said:
Are we going to be driven by a pathological dislike and fear of a dispensation in our judgements? The affidavit that the government filed in the court was absolutely correct as per the Constitution. We do acknowledge that.
The ball is in Modi’s court. The SC verdict has opened a window of opportunity for him to redeem his pledge to empower Muslim women.
Will he do so? Or will he fall prey to politics and let this moment slip away?
(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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