A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court banned the instant triple talaq, a rarely practised form of divorce by a small section of Sunni Muslims, after delivering a split 395-page long verdict. According to the Supreme Court’s verdict, the concept of Talaq-e-biddat or instant triple talaq, where a husband can divorce his wife instantly by pronouncing talaq thrice, directly, over telephone, text message, letter, video chat, etc. and can annul the marriage without paying any alimony to the wife, except for the Meher amount fixed during the wedding, was found to be inconsistent with the tenets of Islam and the teachings of the Holy Quran and hence, it was called unconstitutional and unfit for being a part of any personal law protected under the Indian Constitution.
The Supreme Court’s constitution bench, which gave the historic verdict over the legal validity of triple talaq, consisted of five judges of five different religious faiths. The verdict was split as the Chief Justice of India, Justice J.S. Khehar and the lone Muslim judge, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer were not in favour of banning the practice of triple talaq and wanted the government to adopt a legislation instead. The other three judges, a Parsi, a Syrian Malabar Christian and a Hindu rejected the practice of triple talaq and called it unconstitutional. The validity of two other forms of arbitrary and anti-women triple Talaq techniques, called Talaq-e-Hasan and Talaq-e-Ahsan, may also be challenged in the apex court, as per Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi.
Since the verdict, which was sensationalised and propagated with much hype by the mainstream corporate media, binaries on the issue started appearing; there are people supporting the verdict and others calling it an encroachment upon personal laws of the minority communities. The BJP, under Narendra Modi’s leadership, has shown its happiness over the verdict more enthusiastically than any other party. The government was so sure about the verdict of the court going in favour of the BJP’s stand, that Narendra Modi called upon the Muslim women to fight against the system of triple talaq during his Independence Day speech this year.
The RSS and its affiliates are calling this verdict a victory for the Muslim women and are congratulating them, while the Muslim fundamentalist organisations are calling this verdict a challenge to their way of life and are advocating the preservation of the utmost reactionary religious rituals that are legitimised by colonial-era personal laws. It’s a fact that there’s a mood of jubilation among a large section of the aggrieved Muslim women, but still, there is a lot to read in the verdict and see whether it will really serve the purpose of safeguarding the rights of the Indian Muslim women.
From Triple Talaq to Uniform Civil Code
Based on the Quranic verses and Hadiths, the Sunni and Shia Muslims have their own bespoke marriage and divorce rules. Instant triple Talaq or the Talaq-e-biddat was originally practised by the Hanafi sect of Sunni Muslims, and recently became the most favoured form of annulling marriages among the Sunni Muslims, thanks to the Saudi-trained Salafist evangelists, who extensively popularised the concept of triple talaq. However, ironically, Talaq-e-biddat or triple talaq is an unlawful practice in most of the Muslim-majority countries in Middle-East Asia and is only practised in the Indian subcontinent.
As a regressive and absolutely anti-woman policy, the triple talaq was never favoured by the Muslim women, who are socio-economically quite backward than their counterparts from other communities in India, sans the Dalits and Tribals. The majority of Muslim women are denied a scope of education due to factors like the predominance of patriarchy in the community, the economic constraints and above all the systematic discrimination of the Brahminical fascist state machinery, which never allowed modern education system to reach the Muslim community.
When a Muslim man arbitrarily annuls his marriage to a Muslim woman, who, like the overwhelming majority of Muslim women, is either unemployed or works in micro and unorganised sector, earning a paltry sum of money, then that woman is thrown into a deep abyss of destitution and poverty as the husband will be obliged to pay her only the sum of Meher promised during the marriage and will take no further responsibility of raising the children. Such a situation will force a divorced woman to take care of the children on her own and even arrange the means of sustenance through any possible way, as in most cases their own families would not take them back or support them financially to avoid what is called social embarrassment.
The responsibility of providing compulsory alimony to support an economically and socially marginalised wife, in the case of divorce and taking up the financial responsibility of raising the children will certainly bar those men, who seek to dump one wife for another or are greedy for dowry, from divorcing their wives arbitrarily. Also, this will help the aggrieved women from seeking better compensation for themselves through the available legal means. Though the practice of triple talaq is prevalent among a minuscule part of the Sunni Muslims, there are thousands of women who have suffered due to this utmost reactionary system. Though the apologists of Salafist theology and the reactionary ulema heading the arch-reactionary bodies of Muslim fundamentalists will keep advocating the obsolete practices like triple talaq as an inherent right of the Muslim community, the democratic, progressive and feminist forces must separate the rights of the Muslim community in a Hindutva infested India from the issue of exploiting women, mostly the hapless, poor and destitute women through patriarchal systems packaged with religious overtones.
When India is dreaming of becoming a global power to reckon with, when the politicians and bureaucrats of the country are calling India a growing power, then the laws of India must conform to the democratic, modern and secular values of the 21st-century world. Sticking to ancient, obsolete and often misogynist religious laws that are given sanctity under different personal laws will not help the society to progress but will rather hinder its growth. There is a requirement, therefore, to draft truly progressive, pro-feminist and modern civil codes, according to the peculiarities of each region of the country, so that they can be applied in those particular regions for which they are meant. In a vast country like India, where people of various cultures, languages, customs live together, a uniform civil code applicable all over the country without considering regional peculiarities will not work at all.
The BJP’s demand for a uniform civil code or UCC is actually a ploy, which it is using to impose a North Indian Brahminical patriarchal civil code on all communities and people of all regions and cultures. The patriarchal Brahminical civil code that the RSS has advocated since the colonial era, attempts to reverse the very rights won by the Hindu women through different social struggles and even influenced the Hindu civil code that was drafted by Dr Ambedkar in the 1950s, whose implementation was then stalled due to large-scale demonstrations by the Hindutva camp. The UCC of the Sangh Parivar aims at curtailing the little freedom women of India enjoys. It aims at banning widow remarriage, divorce-seeking by women, the employment and property inheritance rights of women and will certainly legalise the absolute authority of men over women.
But the opposition to the BJP’s UCC agenda cannot be strengthened by standing aside the regressive personal laws of the minority and majority communities of India that neither guarantees equal rights to the women nor promote the idea of a modern, progressive, secular and democratic India. It, therefore, becomes important to integrate the fight for a democratic and progressive civil code legislated by each state keeping in view the unique socio-economic condition of the overwhelming majority of its women population. A countrywide uniform civil code will attempt to toxify the very idea of a progressive law and impose a Brahminical patriarchal law over the people of all communities.
The sheer hypocrisy of the Modi government over the issue of women’s rights
Narendra Modi maintains radio silence on his hyperactive social media accounts whenever the cow-vigilantes, infamous as Gau Rakshaks, kill the innocent Muslim men throughout the country, he remains mute when children die due to lack of oxygen in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, he remains mum when his party-men and bigot MPs spread venom against minority communities of the country, but he becomes swift to congratulate Muslim women over the latter’s purported victory on the issue of triple talaq, as soon as the Supreme Court’s verdict is out. When the man who remained conspicuously silent over the gruesome massacre and gang-rape of Muslim women during the Gujarat pogrom orchestrated under his leadership in 2002 and the Muzaffarnagar pogrom executed by the RSS in 2013, who never uttered a word of condemnation against the gangrape of Muslim sisters in BJP-ruled Haryana by Gou Rakshaks, suddenly, so vociferously, celebrates the microscopic victory of the Muslim women against patriarchy, that too in a very ambiguity-filled situation, then it raises serious concern in the mind of the democratic and patriotic forces of the country who are keen to stall the cavalcade of Hindutva fascism.
The Muslim women do suffer from arbitrary triple talaq, but they also suffer from the discriminative personal laws that prevent them from getting an equal share of inherited properties, like their men counterparts. The majority of Muslim women are not allowed the scope to avail higher education and acquire skills to enhance their career and seek better employment opportunities, as the prevalence of patriarchal domination in their families and the Brahminical apartheid in the society outside, stops them from progressing. The Muslim women’s rights, violated in the denial of equal rights to property and the denial of equal opportunities to enhance their career, never caused any turbulence in the mainstream media or the Hindutva camp that just sheds millions of gallons of crocodile tears over the miserable condition of the Muslim women.
If Narendra Modi’s government was so serious about the cause of the women, then it would have first looked at the most horrible status of those women, who belongs to the very Hindu community, which the saffron brigade claims to represent in the national politics. A large section of Indian Hindu women are deserted by their husbands every year, yet legally they cannot seek any recourse as they are technically not divorced. Modi is himself accused of deserting his wife without formally divorcing her, leaving her to lurch in a strange marital status all her life. If women’s rights are so close to the heart of the prime minister and his party then he and his people must do something to ensure that the rights of such deserted women are protected under the law.
Thousands of Hindu widows are sent by their families every year to Vrindavan, Varanasi and other Hindu pilgrimage destinations, where they are forced to live in utmost destitution and without any support from anyone. They are left with no choices but to beg and even get sexually exploited in order to survive. Most of the abandoned widows live a very pitiful life and die in utmost poverty and without any care at all. Being the vocal advocate of the Hindu community, the BJP should have proactively dealt with the problem and resolved it through resolutions and by adopting programmes that would have rehabilitated and resettled these hapless widows.
The Modi government and the Supreme Court failed to take a stand on marital rape, which is practised widely in India by men to dominate their wives, who dare to question them or deny to follow their commands. The Supreme Court recently declared that it cannot consider marital rape as a criminal offence and therefore won’t order the government to amend the laws to make it a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code. While 1 percent of rape incidents are actually reported in India and 40 percent of married women suffer sexual violence, including marital rapes by husbands, the law took a very different and misogynist attitude over the question of marital sex and gave the man a right to divorce his wife should she deny him sexual intercourse. In 2012 the Karnataka High Court ruled that denying sex to a husband can be a ground for seeking divorce and later in 2014, a Supreme Court verdict also called the denial of sex by the spouse an act of cruelty, which actually can be used by men from all communities, including the Hindu community, to seek divorce from their wives by citing cruelty and the women lost the chance to say a ‘no’ to the sexual demands of their husbands, even when they don’t want it. The Modi government has done exactly nothing to stop marital rapes by criminalising the act and it never bothered to ensure that the women get their right to say ‘no’ to the sexual demands of their spouse. Yet, Modi and the BJP thump their chest over a minuscule issue like the triple talaq, which is now magnified by the mainstream corporate media to demonise the Muslim community more than helping the women of the community.
Recently, the chairperson of Rajasthan Human Rights Commission, Justice Prakash Tatia said that live-in relationships are a form of social terrorism and there should be a marriage like registration for every type of live-in relationship. His comments were though criticised widely for being extremely misogynist and outdated, Justice Tatia said he is firm on his standpoint and the government must do something to resolve the problem. While he cited some of the cases where the sudden break up done by their partners aggrieved and desolated the women in the relationship, which rightly points towards the vulnerable condition of the women in our society, this comment actually tried to reimpose the sanctity of the institution of marriage on the society and attempted to strengthen moral policing, citing exceptional cases as the prevalent trend. Ironically, the Supreme Court called live-in relationships as perfectly legal in 2015, a fact that Justice Tatia probably overlooked. It would have been better if the Modi government could have taken into consideration the cause of the women living in a live-in relationship, especially those with no means of income and those who are socio-economically very vulnerable and provide them with some respite through proper legislation.
The Supreme Court also sent a 24-year-old woman, who voluntarily married a Muslim man by converting to Islam, back to her parent’s “custody” and asked the NIA to probe whether the father’s allegation that the woman was brainwashed to become a terrorist has credibility and whether the girl, Hadiya, is a victim of “Love Jihad”, a term coined by the Hindutva camp to scare-off Hindus with the venom of Islamophobia. By quoting the term that was politically conceived by the Hindutva camp, the Supreme Court, covertly, gave a legitimacy to the claims made by the Hindutva fascists of the RSS and other organisations, that Muslim men are luring Hindu women to convert to Islam and thereby changing the demography of the country. Actually, the very propaganda over “love jihad” sparked the large scale genocide of Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in 2013. The Modi government, which is an integral part of that very hate-monger brigade led by the RSS, denied to interfere in the case and overturn the verdict with a legislation, which would have won it support from even a large section of the opposition parties. Rather by maintaining silence over the issue, Narendra Modi and his sycophants expressed their total support to the Islamophobic propaganda built around the story of that 24-year old girl.
But instead of all these factors tarnishing the democratic and secular credentials of India, the Modi regime kept its enthusiasm reserved only for the triple talaq issue, as it will help it to portray itself as a messiah of women rights on one hand, and on the other, also pave the way to the formulation of a Brahmanical uniform civil code that the RSS leadership conceptualised long back in the 1950s. This sheer hypocrisy displayed by the government by becoming selective in choosing the issues pertaining to women rights and grossly neglecting the most touching issues shows that the Supreme Court’s verdict on triple talaq will be milked extremely to intensify the Islamophobic political campaigns of the Sangh Parivar in the near future.
The tragedy of being a Muslim woman in Modi-fied India
While women of all communities in India suffer under the burden of feudal patriarchal exploitation, the Muslim women are subjected to the additional burden of their Muslim identity. Not only the Muslim women are just subjected to the same forms of gender discrimination, gender violence and sexual exploitation like the women of all other communities, but at the same time, they live under the constant threat of being gang raped and butchered by the Hindutva mobsters; the examples that are set by the RSS-led Hindutva camp in Gujarat pogrom of 2002 and Muzaffarnagar pogrom of 2013, still panics the large section of the Muslim women in the country. The Muslim women suffer at the hands of the Muslim men on one hand, and at the hands of the Hindutva terrorists, on the other hand, while their rights and aspirations are jointly trampled by the religious bigots of both camps.
An arbitrary divorce would affect the life of thousands of Muslim women severely, however, the bigger threat that remains unanswered is the threat of seeing themselves and their family members, including the male members, being lynched brutally in public by a gang of cow-vigilantes, who enjoy extreme support from the Modi government and the entire Brahminical state machinery. These cow vigilantes who kill Muslim men with impunity, accusing them of beef consumption or trading, feel a sense of self-aggrandizement after each such incidents. The cow vigilantes and the Hindutva incensed mobsters led by the RSS and the BJP are a bigger threat to the life and security of the Muslim women in particular and the entire Muslim community in general. As Narendra Modi is suddenly showing his newly found love for the Muslim women of the country, then it becomes a very solemn task for his government and the party that hails him as a superman to take concrete steps, even by involving the Supreme Court and other weapons at its disposal, to curb the terrorist activities carried out by the cow vigilante army in the country.
The Modi government should have ensured that the people of the country, whom Narendra Modi declared as his masters, get a chance to live a dignified life with the freedom to follow their own religion and choices over food, clothing and they are not discriminated against or doesn’t become target of violence unleashed by a very force that swears allegiance to the government and its leader. The excuse of “fringe elements” has lost the sheen and it’s high time that the Modi government must express its desires and agendas publicly, and then it’s to be seen what actions are taken against the communal agenda of the Modi government by the Supreme Court, which rightfully banned the odd practice of triple talaq, despite not criminalising marital rape and despite legitimising the RSS-propaganda around “love jihad”, to proscribe such heinous agenda to uphold the sanctity of the hard owned rights of the minority communities, especially the Muslim community, as enshrined in the Constitution.
Battling the way forward to achieve democracy and establish secularism
It will be too much to expect for socio-economic justice for even the broad masses of Dalits and Tribals whom the BJP and its mentor, the RSS, is trying to engulf in the Hindutva fold to magnify the arithmetics of Hindu demography, forget the plight of the oppressed Muslim community, which is the favourite punching bag of the Sangh Parivar and used as a scapegoat to blame for the failures of the government, the political optics of which helps the saffron camp sweep elections. The RSS is pursuing its agenda and the Modi government is erecting the formal structure of a Brahmanical empire, but it will be a blunder if the democratic and progressive forces, or even a part of it, falls for the seduction of the moribund and sclerotic fundamentalist forces that claim to represent the will of the Muslim community.
The BJP and the RSS will keep on demonising the Muslim community to ensure the Hindu polarisation is done with extreme precision throughout India and the triple talaq issue, which was hyped by the BJP since coming to power in New Delhi, is a trump card to ensure that the reactionary Hindutva fascists have their way in projecting themselves as a force that cares about women rights, while in reality, it is now on the path of dismantling the little rights that the Hindu women enjoy in the matters of equal inheritance of property, remarriage and divorce. The Modi government will employ the services of the utmost reactionary fundamentalist ulemas of the Muslim community to sensationalise the Islamophobic campaign, as these Mullahs would call for the Muslims to stick more closely with their medieval religious practices as a sign of protest against the Hindutva threats. Such acts will ensure that even a large section of the secular Hindus doubt the intention of the Muslim community and distance itself from the fight on behalf of the oppressed and exploited Muslims.
Indian Muslims need to understand that the very fundamentalist forces, the most powerful clergy, mostly Salafists, who have since decided which party the Muslims of a region will vote and what “threats to Islam” the Muslims should protest, including the mere publication of books that criticise or mock any religious belief of the community, are not their true well-wishers or guides. They are merely the docile tools of the ruling clique of big crony and comprador capitalists, feudal landlords and foreign capital that wants to keep the Muslim people away from any political movement and enslave them through the use of brute force of majority and deny them their hard-won rights. The need of the hour is that the educated and democratic Muslim must impregnate the spirit of democracy and equality among the majority of socio-economically backward Muslim men and women. The need of the hour is for the educated and politically progressive Muslims to take up the task of educating, politically arousing and to bring the bulwark of the Muslim community in the arena of democratic struggle that they have remained aloof from since time immemorial.
The politically advanced and progressive Muslims must ensure that their fellow community members, who are deeply entrapped in medieval thoughts and lack the knowledge of the modern world affairs, are equipped with the politics of change, so that they can, together with other oppressed and exploited people, imperil the future prospects of the communal fascist bloc led by the RSS and its progeny, BJP. The poor and exploited people of the Muslim community, who remains far away from secular and democratic political movements but actively participates in those agitations that are driven by the trump card of “Islam under threat” played by the utmost reactionary clergy, must be inspired to come out and struggle in solidarity with other oppressed and exploited people too, so that a grand unity of the poor and oppressed masses is formed genuinely and is tempered with the flames of untiring struggles. A secular, democratic, socialist and progressive state can be the ideal state for the overall development of the Muslim community than a medieval-era Shariat-driven monarchy or clergy rule – this is the politics that the politically advanced section of the Muslims should preach with extreme gumption.
If the Muslims, the poor and the oppressed Muslims, have to agree to the Hindutva camp’s assertion on one thing, then it will be that the community and the country lived in the notion of a pseudo-secularism over all these years, as the Congress Party and other parties now in opposition, shrouded the utmost reactionary and Brahmanical fascist character of the Indian state with the veil of Muslim appeasement. Their Muslim appeasement was aimed at appeasing the most fundamentalist and reactionary section of the rich and influential Muslims while throwing few crumbs at the poor with much fanfare. The optics of it was that the Hindu community was made to believe that the Muslims are better off than them in the country where the Hindus are in majority, while the Hindus are living in a perilous condition in neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Hindu polarisation happened under the banner of the RSS, while the Muslims were tossed between different “secular” parties, including the Congress, that promised to protect their medieval religious practices, and fiddled with the Maulanas, but denied the community a chance to be a part of the 21st-century bandwagon and have a share of the fruits of development that were delivered to the upper-caste elites. It’s imperative for the Muslims, the majority of them who are poor and most oppressed, to dodge these opportunist forces that claims of possessing secular credentials and rally under the banner of progressive democracy and secularism, which eventually promotes the cause of the majority of the India’s population – the poor and the landless peasants, the workers, the Dalits and Tribals, the vast majority of minority communities, and strongly calls for their emancipation from the shackles of feudal-comprador capitalist exploitation.
It’s time that the democratic forces must give a clarion call to the Muslims, the poor and oppressed Muslims who are subjected to inhuman atrocities and extreme apartheid, to unite under the banner of democracy and secularism in unison with the other sections of the oppressed people, especially the Christians, Dalits and Tribals, to launch a nationwide broad anti-fascist struggle with the sole aim of establishing a just and secular India. It’s not feasible to crib about infringement of Muslim rights over the Supreme Court’s verdict that struck off the medieval practice of triple talaq as unconstitutional, but it’s time to build up the people’s democratic struggle against Hindutva fascism and the very system of semi-colonial and semi-feudal socio-economy that exists in India and breeds fascism. People’s unity is an enemy of fascism and only the oppressed and exploited people of the country, united under the banner of anti-fascism and patriotism, can spell the doom of the now-invincible-looking Modi regime and its nefarious Hindutva designs through broad-based democratic struggle.