The exercise of democracy in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh elections has thrown up a very essential, even vital debate.
“I dared to cast that first stone
Knowing I was not without sin
Which human heart will willingly own
To be a part of the devil’s grin?
The meek can’t ever inherit the earth
While usury obtains
It’s probably Ahura Mazda’s curse
That flows through human veins”
From The Tutinaama by Bachchoo
The past year has proved, and 2017 looks likely to confirm, that democracy may be the best of the worst systems of governing human societies, being of the people and by the people but not necessarily ending up for the people. Democracy, this rule of the “majority”, be it a galloping deficit of three million votes for Donald Trump over those for Hillary Clinton, is determined by the unfair harness of a democratically framed Constitution.
In Britain a popular referendum to leave the European Union by a million votes out of some 33 million could have been swayed by 500,000 voting the other way.
The demonstrations against Mr Trump and his executive orders to ban Muslims from seven designated countries, at airports and in cities around the United States and the world, are manifestations of the minority determination against a slender or even “negative majority” will.
The exercise of democracy in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh elections has thrown up a very essential, even vital debate. The BJP backed by Modiji himself has declared its intention to throw the weight of the ruling Central power behind the rights of Muslim women, when and if the BJP is elected in the state.
The BJP manifesto supports a petition in the Supreme Court to prevent Muslim men from divorcing their wives through pronouncing the word “talaq” three times. Muslim men have been known to use triple talaq through mobile phones and the Internet. (Has anyone invented an app? Don’t be frivolous yaar, this is a serious subject- Ed.)
Triple talaq has often resulted in a denial of alimony, leaving an estimated 11 million divorced women destitute. Abolishing it, like banning the immolation of Hindu widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres, would be a progressive step into modernity.
The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan has been campaigning for such an abolition of triple talaq and has won the support of millions throughout the country. Yet it has have proclaimed that the intervention of the BJP is unwelcome. The Andolan’s suspicion is not surprising. The muscular Hindutva agenda, which Modiji has never denounced or distanced himself from, sits uneasily with his manifesto proclamation to side with his “Muslim sisters”.
The Andolan and other commentators characterise Modiji’s intervention as a cynical ploy to divide the Muslim vote in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh elections and steal the female Muslim vote away from the Samajwadi Party to the BJP.
But is the BJP’s proclamation that it would support the Andolan and the other groups who have petitioned the Supreme Court on the issue, really and merely cynical and opportunistic? Can it, and even Mr Modi’s seemingly hypocritical overture in claiming a spiritual kinship with Muslim women, not be seen as a manifestation of the BJP’s commitment to passing the uniform civil code into Indian law?
In Shakespeare’s words, “Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head…” and if we substitute “democracy” for adversity we can see that the uniform civil code, which will include reform of the Muslim law on triple talaq and alimony to divorced women, is righting a shameful wrong! Of course some political philosophers would argue that all acts and announced intentions within a democratic structure are “opportunistic” in that they garner the support of a section of the population materially or otherwise affected by the act or intention.
Far be it from me to tell my Muslim sisters of the Andolan what stance to take, but surely getting the support of the state government of Uttar Pradesh for the abolition of the pernicious practice would be an important alliance? Overlook ideology and make democratic alliances to achieve a desirable goal? Sup with the devil when the cupboard is bare? Perhaps!
It is inevitable that Muslim clerics and sections of the male Muslim population will characterise Modiji’s appeal and the intention to introduce a uniform civil code as an extension of the Hindutva agenda which they will say erodes the religious rights of minorities. They would be, in wider international terms, isolated and even wrong. The practice of triple talaq, though it is said to be rooted in scriptures, is not uniformly accepted as a sanctioned practice in the Muslim world. It is hotly contested in some countries and India is one of only a handful of countries in which it is legally enforceable. The Indian civil code would be catching up with more progressive Muslim and multi-religious societies by abolishing the practice.
The most startling objection reported in the UK press is the contention of some Indian Muslim clerics that the consequent avoidance of paying alimony to the divorced women is a safety valve that prevents estranged marriages from ending in their murder.
The frightening thing about such an outrageous statement is that the statistics of what has become known as “honour killings” in the subcontinent make such murders a distinct possibility.
According to non-governmental organisations, 20,000 murders labelled as “honour killings” take place internationally each year and a fourth or fifth of these occur in India. It is certainly imaginable that the impulse that results in the killing of women for some notion, however primitive, of family honour, can transfer to murderous intentions in disaffected or broken marriages.
However daunting the possibility of “talaq murders”, it must not stand in the way of the abolition of a universal indignity and gender humiliation. That would be like saying if Hindu widows didn’t commit sati, the husband’s families would murder them. Does that happen?