Drooping spirits were uplifted by the Supreme Court’s privacy judgment but I didn’t find myself jumping with joy at their lordships’ exposition on triple talaq. Bewilderment, I think, is the word to accurately describe my reaction at the national celebration led by Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath and leaders of other parties in supporting roles. In all my 75-plus years, I haven’t known anybody, even by remote association, who resorted to this ingenious device to discard an unwanted wife. And yet walk down Mehrauli today you will see posters of Mr Modi and Mr Shah looking down like saints on three women in burqas, which cover every part of their head and face, except for slits to peer through. Below is a beaming chairwoman of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha, with a large bindi on her forehead. The words, in Hindi, congratulate Muslim women who are now free from triple talaq. The poster quite aptly sums up the ruling BJP’s spin on whatever their lordships may have intended. The muffled and crushed Muslim woman is contrasted against her liberated, non-Muslim counterpart. But “achche din” is around the corner for oppressed Muslim woman too: those two gentlemen with beatific smiles are determined to escort her into a divorce-free paradise. Against this large-heartedness, does the defiance and passion of the general secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, Maulana Mahmood Madani, look like an untimely tantrum? “If you (government) wish to punish the person (for pronouncing triple talaq) you may do so, but such a talaq will be recognised” by the Jamiat, and therefore, in his view, society at large. The maulana insists that the courts or the State shall not be allowed to interfere with Muslim practices.
Do I stand with the maulana to keep my Muslim identity intact? Or do I ignore him as I have ignored all clerical edicts throughout my life? That a five-judge Supreme Court bench has struck down the obviously abhorrent practice should find me in the ranks of those thunderously applauding the judgment. But that too is not my chosen path. I spot triumphalism in this national exultation led by Mr Modi, Mr Shah, Yogi Adityanath and sundry leaders. The Muslim male has been administered a double-fisted punch on his chin and his women freed from his basement harems. The (then) Chief Justice said he has accorded protection to 90 per cent of Muslims from the barbaric practice. But most surveys suggest that talaq-talaq afflicts not more than one per cent. If true, does it behove their lordships to paint the entire community with one brush? And what does one make of that poster mentioned above? Should not the ministry of social welfare and the Minorities Commission do a survey to establish the extent to which the practice is prevalent?
To protect communities from generalisations, the State must do many other surveys – covering the nation’s dietary habits, for instance. Pasis are a community that keeps pigs to supplement the work of night soil carriers. On festive occasions, Pasis drink homemade hooch and feast on pigs that they slaughter. In Mahatma Gandhi’s framework, all castes – which would include Pasis – are part of the Hindu family. But surely one would be in great error if one described Hindus as “pork” eaters. Qualifications would have to be inserted. Likewise, should not their lordships have clarified that there is no record of 99 per cent of Muslims indulging in this barbarism. A brief look at the authors of mass celebration. In his very first speech in Parliament in May 2014, Narendra Modi became the only Prime Minister to openly say what never came naturally to the Congress: among the many burdens that weighed the nation down was “1,200 years of foreign subjugation”. For someone living with such an abiding sense of “subjugation”, the power to liberate Muslim women must come with a tingling sensation down the spine.
The Congress line, the one that Congressmen went public with, was about “200 years” of British rule. The Muslim period was glossed over. That was the Congress hypocrisy. Peel by peel, the hypocrisy revealed itself until now we have two Muslim-mukt parties – one the Muslim fears, the other he suspects. In fact, at the earlier stages, soon after 1947, a common and particularly galling allegation was: “Muslims partitioned the country and then stayed on.” There is no record of Congress leaders ever offering a clarification for this canard. So implicated were they in the country’s fracture that they refrained from encouraging debate on this issue lest it turn upon them. The Congress wasn’t the only guilty party. Even socialists like Ram Manohar Lohia talked of the “spirit of Haldighati” as a panacea for boosting Hindu morale. He went along with the version of history which credits Maharana Pratap with victory over Akbar, a highly disputed proposition. Since I stayed with JP at his Kadam Kuan residence in Patna, I saw firsthand how the Bihar movement was put together by Nanaji Deshmukh of the RSS and his compatriots.
Socialists, conservative Congress leaders who had broken away from Indira Gandhi (or whom she had discarded) all came together in the Janata Party government. Subsequent politics during the Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi years had become manifestly sensitive to this reality: varying shades of Hindu majoritarianism were an essential requirement for the electoral game. It was this trajectory that Narendra Modi perfected. He gained exceptional height in 2014. In the midst of all the hoopla about Muslim women, some bits and pieces to complete the communal picture. The other day my sister and her daughter travelled by Air India. She had asked for a vegetarian diet, her daughter for non-vegetarian. The printout of her ticket said: “Vegetarian Hindu meal”. The other printout was equally explicit: “Non-vegetarian Muslim meal”. Their lordships may wish to find out if institutionalised apartheid is creeping upon us?
This is the background against which the nation and its media are amplifying the turn that the Supreme Court has given to the plight of an infinitesimal minority of Muslim women, divorced by this coarse method. Intentionally or unintentionally on the part of their lordships, the situation created by their judgment is fraught with politics, even though only one per cent of Muslim women have faced talaq, talaq, talaq. If propaganda is the name of the game, these ladies should be facilitated on their way to Mecca for Haj, by way of thanksgiving. This is a photo-op not to be missed. Incidentally, a great irony attends the poster I saw in Mehrauli. A stone’s throw from the spot was once the palace from where Razia Sultana, renowned for her horsemanship, had ruled as Sultan from 1236 to 1240, a colourful phase in Indian history which Mr Modi remembers so well.