Views from Srinagar
Aijaz Zaka Syed
HOW does a party that presided over mass rapes and slaughter of Muslim women get away with presenting itself as the champion and protector of Muslim women? Not only is the Bharatiya Janata Party known for its ‘love’ of all things Muslim, its very raison d’etre — the purpose of existence — remains the subjugation of the minority community.
Even if one ignores the long history of the Parivar’s role in thousands of anti-Muslim riots and historic crimes such as the destruction of Babri Masjid in December 1992, how can one shut one’s eyes to all that has happened under the Modi-led BJP government over the past three and half years? From lynchings and coldblooded killings of Muslims in broad daylight to rising hate attacks at the hands of the ruling party men and even senior ministers and officials, these past few years would go down as one of the darkest periods in the country’s history. And all this has happened with the knowledge and complicit inaction, if not the blessings, of those at the very top.
So it takes real breathtaking audacity for the BJP and the Parivar to beat their chest and shed tears for Muslim women. It is like Hitler’s Nazis crying over the predicament of millions of Jews they sent to gas chambers!
The triple talaq bill that the BJP using its brute majority in Parliament bulldozed through without any debate or amendments suggested by the lone Muslim MP Asaduddin Owaisi would create a law that in the name of protecting Muslim women punishes Muslim men. More important, it shut out all possibilities of reconciliation and rapprochement between the husband and wife.
As eminent Islamic scholar Dr Javed Jamil argues, the bill introduced by the BJP government does not ban triple talaq (divorce) but validates it, making the divorce valid but punishable under law with with at least 3-year imprisonment: “The argument being presented is that the Bill is in tune with Quranic injunctions. It is not. Of course, the Quran prescribes a method of talaq which allows reconciliation within three months and the talaq becomes operable only after the period of Iddah (extended till the completion of the prenatal, natal and also postnatal period).
The Bill passed by Lok Sabha instead of rejecting triple talaq and directing the husband to follow the proper procedure accepts it as valid meaning that talaq has taken place and punishes the husband with three years’ imprisonment.”
According to another scholar M Burhanuddin Qasimi, the BJP bill indeed criminalises the Islamic concept of divorce as a whole and not just triple talaq. The definition of Talaq-e Bid’ah in the Bill is ambiguous and utterly confusing. It covers all forms of talaq which is enforceable with immediate effect. Thus the Bill is entirely against the Quran and all juristic schools of Islamic Sharia. It is against Islam and practices of all Muslims around the world.
Writing in Indian Express, Prof Faizan Mustafa, a distinguished legal luminary, argues that the government is doing a huge disservice to Muslim women as no husband on return from jail is likely to retain the wife on whose complaint he has gone to prison. The bill will lead to more divorces. The remedy to tackle triple divorce is thus worse than the disease. The bill also obliterates the distinction between “major” and “minor” crimes by providing the excessive and disproportionate punishment of three years.
But if things have come to such a pass allowing an Islamophobic government to take advantage of the situation, the Indian Muslim community has no one to blame but its own leadership.
Even when it had been apparent that the current regime in Delhi is out to exploit the issue, the Muslim leadership and wise men of All India Muslim Personal Law Board took no steps to counter the mischievous government narrative.
They just sat around as if daring the government to spring its attack. They did not mobilise the public opinion including among the Muslim masses on the issue. No one thought of approaching opposition lawmakers, including Muslim MPs, against the BJP’s machinations. As a result, the Congress, the main opposition party, ended up supporting the government in Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament.
It was only when the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha without any resistance that the Muslim leadership seemed to wake up and rally the support of opposition parties like the DMK and even the NDA ally, Telugu Desam.
The Congress also seems to have lately realised the massive opposition within the Muslim community to the Bill. It was this last minute resistance that helped block the Bill in Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament in which the BJP still remains relatively weak.
This episode once again exposes the utter intellectual bankruptcy and shocking ineptitude of the Muslim leadership. This at a time when the community faces unprecedented threats and challenges on every front, more importantly, from a very hostile government. The very existence and identity of the Indian Muslim is at stake. These challenges call for a mature and forward-looking leadership that is not only familiar with the new political realities but is also alive to the needs and aspirations of its people, majority of whom are young.
Right now, the Muslim leadership must focus on initiating immediate internal reforms to put an end to the abuse of divorce laws by some reckless, irresponsible men.
Although the practice of divorce in Indian Muslim society is still very negligible and almost non-existent when compared to other communities, including the Hindus and Christians, the Muslim Law Board can no long afford inaction on the issue. Indeed, it should have of its own accord initiated reforms to stop such regressive practices. Especially when most Ulema agree that it is an abominable practice and has been banned in many Muslim countries around the world.
By failing to do so, the Board presented the BJP government with a perfect opportunity to target the Islamic Shariah, portraying Islam and all Muslims as unreasonable, inhuman and anti-women. It handed the regime with a big stick to beat Muslims with, presenting itself as the champion and well-wisher of Muslim women.
This when the BJP are yet to break their silence over the inhuman treatment of girls and women, including of 6 crore widows, by the Hindu society. Every year thousands of Hindu women are killed or burnt alive for dowry. Thousands more are killed in their mothers’ womb for being born of a ‘wrong gender.’ The Muslim society is not perfect of course. But it is largely free of many of these evils and hateful patriarchal practices.
That said, there is no denying that the community needs to change with the changing times and it should not wait for the government — least of all a government led by the BJP — to dictate reforms to it. Change must come from within.
I have highest respect for the Islamic scholars and intellectuals that people the Muslim Personal Law Board and the Muslim Majlise Mushawarat, the umbrella body of Muslim organisations. However, they have wasted a lot of time and opportunities to confront the new realities of a new India. It is time they prepared themselves for the challenges of a fast evolving world by becoming more democratic and transparent.
These highest representative bodies of Muslims have to open their doors to more broadminded intellectuals, younger influencers and true well-wishers of the community from more diverse backgrounds. Above all, they must accommodate more women, making them truly representative of a 200-million strong diverse community. We have no option but to change with them.
[Aijaz Zaka Syed is an independent journalist and former Khaleej Times editor]