The Supreme Court’s landmark judgement striking down the practice of instant triple talaq is rightly being hailed as “historic”.
By a majority of 3:2, the five-judge bench termed the practice “unconstitutional” and violative of Articles 14 (right to equality before the law) and 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution, thereby setting aside a brutally discriminatory custom which allowed Muslim men to arbitrarily divorce their wives.
The petitioners who challenged the practice of instant triple talaq, or talaq-e-biddat, in the Supreme Court are rejoicing today. As are legions of Muslim women who live under the threat of summary divorce and ouster from their matrimonial homes with or without their children. Indeed, any Indian who believes in gender justice has to celebrate this progressive ruling by the apex court.
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Political Victory for BJP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and a host of other ruling party notables have also deployed all manner of superlatives to praise the verdict. However, for the BJP, the scrapping of triple talaq is not merely a welcome move towards social justice. It also comes loaded with political dividends to be cashed in come 2019.
And the beauty of it is that, in this matter at least, the ruling party has the Opposition mewling on the mat. The essential rightness of outlawing instant triple talaq is so unquestionable that the Opposition cannot but echo the government in hailing it as an epochal step towards social change.
Indeed, any which way you look, the triple talaq verdict represents a major victory for the BJP. And let us be under no illusions – despite all the fine words about gender justice and women’s empowerment, the victory is a political one.
Yes, it was the apex court which delivered the verdict – the government had nothing to do with it. But that scarcely matters when it comes to the politics of managing perceptions. Already, the BJP’s social media armies, including the odd high-profile television anchor, are serenading the verdict as a major achievement of the government. Politicising the ruling and efforts to capitalise on it are already underway.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that his government is committed to upholding the rights of Muslim women. Last year, in the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, Modi had said:
Is it fair for a man to say talaq thrice over the phone and a Muslim woman’s life to be ruined? The government will ensure that constitutional rights of Muslim women are protected.
With this verdict under its belt, the BJP could claim that it has done just that.
And there is no gainsaying that fact that governments past failed to do anything similar, with Rajiv Gandhi squandering a historic opportunity during the Shah Bano case in 1985 for fear of antagonising the minority community.
Also Read: Meet the Women Who Battled Tradition, Triple Talaq & Patriarchy
One Step Towards Uniform Civil Code
In truth, the BJP has consistently highlighted the issue of triple talaq in recent times. Along with the promise of constructing the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the BJP’s manifesto for the UP elections had also pledged a referendum on triple talaq.
When the party won an overwhelming majority in the state in March this year, winning 325 out of 403 seats and 32 out of 42 Muslim-dominated constituencies, some argued that the Muslims – who account for 18 percent of the state’s population – had voted for it in large numbers. Though no hard data is available, the BJP claimed that its phenomenal showing was also due to support from Muslim women who welcomed its anti-triple talaq stance.
That claim may or may not be true.
And that rhetoric will resonate not just with millions of Muslim women – and progressive Muslim men – but also with the brute majority who have long resented that the minority community enjoyed special personal laws related to property, marriage, divorce, and so on.
While party leaders will no doubt take the moral high ground and tout the abolition of triple talaq as a much-needed social reform, Hindus with a communal agenda will rejoice in it as the first step towards ushering in a Uniform Civil Code — a cherished article of faith both for the BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the RSS.
Also Read: How Our ‘Extremist’ Neighbour Pakistan Banned Triple Talaq in 1961
Gains Ahead of 2019 Polls
In other words, the BJP garners brownie points from two quarters: progressive Indians of every religious stripe; and Hindu nationalists who want to scrap Muslim personal law in its entirety. Both could weigh in favour of the BJP in 2019 and pave the path towards NDA 2.0.
What’s more, the verdict could not have come at a better time for the ruling party. An electoral payback from Muslim hardliners is of course unlikely to make a significant dent in BJP’s armour at any time. But even that slim window of retaliation seems absent right now.
The states with a large proportion of Muslim population are not going to the polls any time soon. UP voted this year, West Bengal and Assam, where Muslims account for 27 percent and 34 percent of the population respectively, voted last year, and Jammu and Kashmir (68 percent Muslim population) is without doubt more roiled by insurgency than matters of triple talaq.
Also Read: Scrapping Triple Talaq Historic, or an Eyewash? Twitter Weighs In
Unpalatable Truth for the Opposition
Even the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), once a virulent critic of any move to erase instant triple talaq, and which has in the past suggested that it was not a significant issue at all, seemed to fall in line with the Supreme Court verdict on Tuesday. Z Jilani, member, AIMPLB, said, “Have respected SC’s judgements in past, today’s judgement on triple talaq will also be considered by us.”
As heartwarming pictures of Muslim women celebrating and feeding each other jalebis went around social media on Tuesday, the Opposition, including the Congress, gritted its teeth and made the right noises.
Most Opposition leaders welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling. Even West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who makes a fetish of her devotion to Muslims, reserved comment rather than slam the judgement.
Codifying the Law
It remains to be seen how the government tackles the problem of bringing in legislation around divorce within the Muslim community.
For without codifying the necessary laws on marriage and divorce, the Supreme Court judgement will have little impact on the ground. That said, the importance of the verdict cannot be overemphasised. For it nullifies a monstrous custom – one wherein a man can divorce his wife by the simple expedient of uttering “talaq" thrice, sometimes even over the phone or via email.
This is a huge win for women. Too bad for the Opposition that it might also amount to a great win for the BJP.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached @ShumaRaha. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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