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Ambedkar answers: Why Muslims doubt the BJP on triple talaq

By Utkarsh Mishra
April 14, 2017 10:13 IST
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The right actions may help reduce this trust deficit.
But what we have today is over-enthusiastic vigilante groups targeting the minorities over beef or 'love jihad,' against whom the government does little apart from meek condemnation, says Utkarsh Mishra.

From Modi to Yogi, the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party have waged a war against the practice of triple talaq. Their 'conviction' to end the 'miseries of Muslim women' and getting them their rights is unprecedented.

That the ideological heirs of those who, more than half-a-century ago were opposed to similar rights being given to Hindu women are showing such 'conviction' is definitely a change for the better.

If he had seen such vehement support for 'social reform' among the Hindu right, Dr B R Ambedkar would have been very happy. He would have possibly excused them for stonewalling the Hindu Code Bills, which forced him to resign as India's law minister in anguish.

The demand to abolish the practice of triple talaq is not limited to the Hindu right. Muslim women have filed petitions in the Supreme Court against the practice, it has been criticised by women politicians across party lines, and most recently by Salma Ansari, Vice-President Mohammed Hamid Ansari's wife -- she said the practice does not have Quranic sanction.

On one hand, there are Muslim women who are genuinely the victims of this practice, and on the other, there are those who ask that if Pakistan and several other Muslim majority countries can do away with this practice, why can't Indian Muslims?

But the All India Muslim Personal Law Board refuses to give in. Each time a demand is made to abolish triple talaq, the AIMPLB defends the practice even more vehemently.

How do we break the ice then? Dr Ambedkar seems to have an answer.

In his book Pakistan, or the Partition of India, Dr Ambedkar touched upon the many 'social evils' of Hindu and Muslim societies and explained why a determined effort to get rid of them was not being made.

There are four parts of his argument: What the conservatives say in defence of such practices; why their argument fails to convince the seekers of reforms; what reasons are generally given for Muslim society to largely staying away from reforms; and why Indian Muslims actually resist these reforms.

Reading his arguments also makes it clear why most Muslims in India will always doubt the Hindu right's 'conviction' to bring about such reforms, no matter how many times it is said that large numbers of Muslim women vote for the BJP to support the 'fight' against triple talaq.

Regarding the arguments given in defence of such practices as triple talaq, Dr Ambedkar writes:

'It is held out that marriage among the Musalmans is a contract. Being a contract, the husband has a right to divorce his wife, and the Muslim Law has provided ample safeguards for the wife which, if availed of, would place the Muslim wife on the same footing as the husband in the matter of divorce. For it is claimed that the wife under the Muslim Law can, at the time of the marriage, or even thereafter in some cases, enter into a contract by which she may under certain circumstances obtain a divorce.'

Such an argument is in stark contrast with the real situation, because 'No Muslim girl has the courage to repudiate her marriage, although it may be open to her on the ground that she was a child and that it was brought about by persons other than her parents... No Muslim wife will think it proper to have a clause entered into her marriage contract reserving her the right to divorce...'

'While she cannot repudiate the marriage, the husband can always do it, without having to show any cause. Utter the word "Tallak" and observe continence for three weeks, and the woman is cast away. The only restraint on his caprice is the obligation to pay dower. If the dower has already been remitted, his right to divorce is a matter of his sweet will.'

'This latitude in the matter of divorce destroys that sense of security which is so fundamental for a full, free and happy life for a woman. This insecurity of life to which a Muslim woman is exposed is greatly augmented by the right of polygamy and concubinage, which the Muslim Law gives to the husband.'

At this point, one must take note, especially those who attach so much importance to this issue, that only because such practices have religious sanction, ' must not suppose they are indulged in by the generality of Muslims.'

...Still the fact remains that they are privileges which are easy for a Muslim to abuse to the misery and unhappiness of his wife.'

So why do Muslims oppose the abolition of such a practice? Dr Ambedkar says the usual reasons given is that the Muslims all over the world are an unprogressive people.

'This view no doubt accords with the facts of history. After the first spurts of their activity, the scale of which was undoubtedly stupendous, leading to the foundations of vast empires -- the Muslims suddenly fell into a strange condition of torpor, from which they never seem to have become awake.'

'This answer, though obvious, cannot be the true answer. If it were the true answer, how are we to account for the stir and ferment that is going on in all Muslim countries outside India, where the spirit of inquiry, the spirit of change and the desire to reform are noticeable in every walk of life?'

'Indeed, the social reforms which have taken place in Turkey have been of the most revolutionary character. If Islam has not come in the way of the Muslims of these countries, why should it come in the way of the Muslims of India?'

Here comes the question which many in India ask today, that if Muslim majority countries can end this practice, what stops India for doing so? Well, the answer lies in their being Muslim majority countries. As Dr Ambedkar writes, 'It seems to me that the reason for the absence of the spirit of change in the Indian Musalman is to be sought in the peculiar position he occupies in India. He is placed in a social environment which is predominantly Hindu. That Hindu environment is always silently but surely encroaching upon him. He feels that it is de-musalmanising him.'

'As a protection against this gradual weaning away, he is led to insist on preserving everything that is Islamic without caring to examine whether it is helpful or harmful to his society.'

'Secondly, the Muslims in India are placed in a political environment which is also predominantly Hindu. He feels that he will be suppressed and that political suppression will make the Muslims a depressed class. It is this consciousness that he has to save himself from being submerged by the Hindus socially and politically, which to my mind is the primary cause why the Indian Muslims as compared with their fellows outside are backward in the matter of social reform.'

'If the Muslims in other countries have undertaken the task of reforming their society and the Muslims of India have refused to do so, it is because the former are free from communal and political clashes with rival communities, while the latter are not..'

This trust deficit has only deepened by the words and actions of the Hindutva forces over the years. A massive mandate in a couple of elections is not going to bridge this gap overnight.

The right actions may help reduce this trust deficit. But what we have today is over-enthusiastic vigilante groups targeting minorities over beef or 'love jihad,' against whom the government does little apart from meek condemnation.

Who then will trust them with reforming their society?

And do they actually want reform, or is it just their holier-than-thou attitude?

The torchbearers of the 'fight' against triple talaq must be the Muslim women affected by it and the youth. Even if it is not struck down by a court of law, they should launch a campaign to urge their brethren to stop practising it.

Only they can do it. Only if, as social media suggests, the youth hasn't become more communal than previous generations.

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