Muslim women don't need Hindutva forces for 'liberation'text_fields
Union Cabinet Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has again given sole credit to Narendra Modi-Government for liberating Muslim women. In a tweet, he has claimed that Muslim women are grateful to Prime Minister Modi for "strengthening 'self-reliance, self-respect and self-confidence' and "protecting their constitutional rights against the cruel social evil of triple talaq". In another tweet, Naqvi has said that "Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Government has ensured the dignity of Muslim women by bringing law against the social evil of Triple Talaq. Modi Government's policy of 'Development without Discrimination' has created an atmosphere of trust across the country". His statement was made to mark the two years of the enactment of The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019.
Last year too, Naqvi had made such a claim. He said that since the law against triple talaq was enacted, the cases of divorce against Muslims women declined by 82 per cent. In an official statement last year, Naqvi targeted the "secular" opponents, particularly the Congress party. He alleged that the grand old party of India did not stand with Muslim women for the fear of losing the Muslim votes. Contrary to the Congress, the Modi government, as Naqvi claimed, gave priority to the question of social reforms.
Several other BJP leaders and the supporters of Hindutva forces too have used the occasion to praise Modi Government. They have posted their pictures and comments on social media to celebrate "Muslim Women Rights Day". In several pictures, Hindu right-wing leaders have been seen standing with a few burqa-clad women.
Naqvi's statements very well fit into the Hindutva forces' propaganda that the BJP is the party of the nationalists (Desh Bhakti)/Hindus/"oppressed" Muslim women, while the Congress and secular parties are supporters of anti-nationals (deshdrohi)/Muslims, particularly "conservative" and "religious" Muslim men.
Participating in a debate on the triple talaq bill in Parliament in December, 2017, a BJP MP showered all credit on Modi. When facing opposition on the proposed bill, she assured all Muslim women that "when they have a brother like Narendra Modi, they do not need to be afraid of anyone". When the bill was passed into law later, the act of divorce, a civil matter, was criminalized. Many argue that such a law was not needed after the Supreme Court had already outlawed it. While the provisions were made for the imprisonment of Muslim men, the Government did not allocate any funds for the divorced Muslim women.
That is why Naqvi's claim that Modi-Government is working for "development without discrimination" does not carry much weight. Nor has ever the Narendra Modi-led BJP government seemed serious about "empowering" Muslim women. The Hindutva forces consciously made the empty talk of liberating Muslim women, particularly during the election rallies, to humiliate the minority community further and polarize the voters.
Soon after the Modi government came to power in 2014, it consciously took up the issue of triple talaq. With the help of pliant media, the Hindutva forces were successful in making it a big national issue without much effort. Needless to say, the liberation of "oppressed" Muslim women has been one of the major planks of the Modi government as a major part of its anti-Muslim narrative. In fact, the whole Hindutva narrative around the triple talaq has been less factual and more rabidly communal.
For days and nights, debates on television channels were held around the "oppressed" Muslim women, but reliable facts and critical questions were nowhere in the discussion. Even if it is accepted that the practice of triple talaq in one sitting was found among Muslims, the Government never brought any reliable data to ascertain the gravity of the problem. In the media, individual stories about divorced Muslim women were brought to the public. And in the name of facts on these divorced Muslim woman, Shayara Bano, later joined the BJP.
To reiterate, the Hindu right-wing discourse was constructed with half-truths. The propaganda has been rife that Muslim men marry four wives and keep dozens of children. The Muslim men divorce their women at will. They "cruelly" treat their women. The All India Muslim Personal Laws (AIMPLB) and religious organizations of Muslims have been demonized as anti-women and anti-constitution. Secular parties, including the Left and social justice, have been charged with maintaining a "silence" on these issues for "vote banks".
Even the media failed its readers in bringing the facts to them. Not many journalists asked how Muslim men -- even if they want to -- could marry four wives if the number of women is around a mere 930 against 1000 men. The large section of the press did not dare to question the ruling establishment about polygamy. For example, a government report of 1974 says that polygamy is more common among non-Muslims. Similarly, the myth of the Muslim population's "explosion" is spread unverified. Even the government reports say that the growth rate of the Muslim population is fast declining.
The propagated notion is that only Muslims have the "privilege" of being governed by their personal laws, while Hindus are governed by uniform and secular laws. However, the reality is that all, including Hindus and Muslims, are governed by their respective personal laws regarding marriage, divorce, succession, charity, will, etc. The customary laws of tribes are protected under their customary laws by the constitution. For example, polygamy is not only permitted by Muslim personal laws with conditions but marrying more than one person simultaneously is also found among many tribes.
Another myth was that only the Muslim women were suffering and only the Muslim personal laws were anti-women and reactionary. In other words, the whole question of gender was shifted to the communal plank.
No doubt, Muslim women face several hurdles at the hands of their men. But Hindu women do suffer. Several feminist scholars have found fault with Hindu personal laws and advocate radical reforms in them.
Today, not many people know that the Hindu right-wing forces, which have become the new self-appointed "champion" of Muslim women's rights, vehemently opposed reforms in Hindu personal laws in 1955.
Their opposition as well as the lack of support from the Nehru Government frustrated Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Later, he had to resign from Nehru Government. While offering his resignation, Ambedkar said, "To leave inequality between class and class between sex and sex which is the soul of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a place on the dung heap. This is the significance I attached to the Hindu Code"(cited in Sharmila Rege, Against the Madness of Manu: B.R. Ambedkar's Writings on Brahminical Patriarchy, Navayana, 2013, p. 199).
It is the success of the Hindutva narrative that in the popular perception, Hindu women are believed to have been empowered. In contrast, Muslim women face cruelty at the hand of their men protected under the Muslim personal law.
However, the reality is that women -- belonging to all castes, communities, religions and regions -- suffer from domestic violence, destitution, widowhood, dowry, divorce, sexual assaults. Their access to health, education and property is also limited. But the narratives of majoritarian right-wing forces have kept their focus solely on Muslim women.
The Hindu right-wing narratives seem to have been heavily influenced by the colonial and imperialistic forces, which once justified and keep justifying their rule in foreign lands in the name of "civilizing" the people and "liberating" their women.
For example, the British rule in India and the contemporary imperialist forces occupying the countries with sizable Muslim populations have legitimized their exploitative rule by calling themselves "liberators" of their "oppressed" women.
In her well-cited book, Do Muslim Women Need Saving?, eminent anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod has questioned the rhetoric of libration of "oppressed" Muslim women at the hands of outsiders. As the author argued, "Projects of saving other women depend on and reinforce a sense of superiority, and are a form of arrogance that deserves to be challenged (p. 47)".
Having stated the propaganda of the right-wing forces, the minority community may do further harm if it thinks that everything within the community is perfectly correct. It is undeniable that Muslim women face several hurdles, and a lot needs to be done to make society gender-just.
In other words, opposition to reforms will do no good. Even a strong opinion among the Muslim community has emerged that believes the AIMPLB should have banned the un-Islamic practice of triple talaq much earlier.
Moreover, several Islamic scholars strongly believe that the most progressive laws from different schools of jurisprudence should be commonly adopted to meet the need of the time. For example, Ahle-Hadith and Shia Muslims have never upheld the practice of triple talaq. And to outlaw triple talaq, the AIMPLB could have drawn on rich internal resources within Islam.
The minority community is justified in resisting majoritarian forces and authoritarian states. But it should never resist the process of democratization within.
(Abhay Kumar is a Delhi-based independent journalist and writer. Besides, he teaches Political Science and Urdu. His broad areas of interest include minority rights and social justice. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)