The Radiance is a weekly journal of the Jamat-i-Islamia, a fundamentalist organisation. It carries on its front page an article which says: First, you give us account. Apparently, it means the Hindus. The article is on the triple talaaq. The Hindu Personal Law came into being after first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s intervention. Marriages used to be a sacrament for life and the Sikh or the disabled had to go through the rigours of marriage with no relief. It was Nehru who introduced divorce in the Hindu religion for the first time. He was strongly opposed by Dr Rajindra Prasad, who was the chairman of the constituent assembly and widely respected leader throughout country. Nehru had his way because he controlled the government machinery.
The Muslims have faced a similar challenge for a long time. The triple talaaq has no Quranic sanction but it has been there for a long time. Some women challenged it in the Supreme Court which has said that there should be an equality of gender. The government thought of issuing a questionnaire to find out consensus but refrained from doing so.
The Muslim Personal Law Board vehemently opposed this move. It has no woman member and continues to dictate terms without any consultation with women. This has been resented by the women themselves but the Muslim Personal Law Board continues to follow a policy which doesn’t even entertain their opinion.
The question is bound to come up before parliament because the different sections of the Muslims community and even others are agitated over the situation. Muslim men continue to dominate and even though they grant that the Prophet (PBUH) wanted both men and women to be equal. However, when it comes codify this idea, the Board doesn’t care.
Most Muslims countries in the world, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned triple talaaq. But the male chauvinism in India is so strong that even a debate on the subject is not possible. Even a semblance of discussion is out rightly rejected. The triple talaaq continues to be invoked and the male dominance remains undiminished.
Instead of debating on the problem, the Radiance article tries to divert the focus on triple talaaq. When it says that let them first give the account, it apparently makes the problem as Hindu and Muslim. This is unfortunate. The constitution has included in the Directive Principles a Uniform Civil Code, hoping that it would be followed one day.
How can a debate take place when the Muslim Personal Law Board is straightaway opposed to the questionnaire seeking people’s opinion? Women hailing from different parts of the country have protested and demanded that they should be consulted. The Narendra Modi government is reluctant to take any step lest it should be misunderstood. But things cannot be left at that point.
Parliament should step in first to debate on the issue in both houses and then find out how the community, particularly the women, feel on this question. Political parties understandably want to maintain silence because of electoral considerations. Five states, including Uttar Pradesh, are going to pools early next year and the Muslims are the king makers.
Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav was able to garner Muslim votes because he was respected among the Muslims who felt alienated towards the Congress. This time the anti-incumbency factor will come into play chief minister Akhilesh Yadav appears to be acceptable even though Azim Khan, his cabinet minister, continues to give out as if he is custodian of Muslims.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, indiscreet in his speeches, is trying to get Muslims on his side. But he doesn’t sell and it would be probably better for Sonia Gandhi herself to lead the party. There is no Italian-tag attached to her any longer. And she attracts the crowd in her own name more than her son does. This is a challenge for Congress which has staked its future with Rahul but feels increasingly convinced that he does not go down well with the masses. In fact, his sister Priyanka Vadra has a better popular touch than him.
It is a shame that a secular democratic country has been living with the practice like triple talaaq fearing the annoyance of the community. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi bungled by bringing in legislation to ensure a stipend for the Muslim widow. It unnecessarily fuelled the anti-Babri Masjid agitation and during the P.V. Narasimha Rao government the mosque was demolished. The rest is history.
In the same way, triple talaaq cannot continue because it goes against the grain of what is enshrined in the constitution. In fact, it is surprising that it has lasted so long despite the directive principles to have a common civil code. The successive governments since independence have evaded the question. The Modi government may also do the same. But this is not the solution. The triple talaaq will have to go, sooner or later.
The Radiance article has erroneously made the question as they and we, Muslims and Hindus. This is a matter which the Muslim community has to sort it out. But it cannot stay hanging as it has been the case since independence. Whatever the Muslim Personal Law Board’s objection, the questionnaire must be issued to find out how the community and the rest of people feel about.
Probably, the winter session of parliament will witness a discussion on the subject. But even if it is not slated, it should take place. No doubt, the community has to decide but it hasn’t happened so far. And it looks odd that a secular democratic country feels helpless to do away with an anomaly that has been prevalent for over six decades.
However reluctant the Modi government may feel, it has to face the reality and find a solution. It is not Hindus versus Muslims; it is some outdated thinking which does not fit into the letter and spirit of the constitution.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.