‘BJP govt is no champion of women’s rights’

POORNIMA JOSHI AMJIGEESH New Delhi | Updated on January 16, 2018


Party using triple talaq issue to usher in UCC, browbeat minorities: CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat

While most Opposition parties have been reluctant to take a clear position on the issue of ‘triple talaq’ for fear of annoying Muslim conservatives and the clergy, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and long-time women’s activist Brinda Karat has openly supported the demand for abolition of the practice of instant divorce. Karat also attacked the BJP for exploiting the issue to usher in their agenda of a Uniform Civil Code to further their sectarian politics. Karat spoke to Business Line on the issue.

Some feminist scholars have argued that the Supreme Court has already invalidated triple talaq and that this is an irrelevant debate. At the same time, it has become part of a public debate and the BJP seems to be taking a progressive position against Muslim conservatives.

The issue is right now before the Supreme Court. It is an issue that has come because of all those petitions that have been filed. It is a specific practice of instant, arbitrary triple talaq in India which has been opposed by Muslim women since the time of Shah Bano. So, we have to ask the question, for whom is it [the debate] relevant or irrelevant? Now I am conscious of the case laws and the invalidation by the Supreme Court. But I am [also] conscious of the fact that this practice continues despite having been invalidated by the Supreme Court. Certainly for women affected by this practice, it is relevant.

As a political being, as someone who has worked for women’s rights, what is my position as far as this particular aspect? My answer is that we unequivocally support the demand for abolition of triple talaq. Most Muslim countries do not have this practice. .

But while I support this demand that has come from the women, let me reflect on the duplicity of the self-proclaimed champions of their rights among the Modi government’s spokespersons. Where was Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad, the biggest champion of women’s “dignity and rights” these days, when his cohorts were out on the streets with swords demanding protection of Sati in the name of religion? Where was Mr Prasad when his colleague Manohar Lal Khattar, the Chief Minister of Haryana, says Khap Panchayats are doing good work when they are lynching couples marrying outside their caste?

I have heard Arun Jaitley in the context of domestic violence in live-in relationships. He was of the opinion that it was a “bit too advanced” for our country. Maneka Gandhi says marital rape is not in Indian culture. Aur ab hamko in logon se seekhna padega ki women’s rights kya hote hain (Things have come to such a pass that we have to learn from the BJP what women’s rights are).

But the BJP is taking a progressive position on this particular issue.

My point is that the BJP has a highly duplicitous and hypocritical position, wherein they are using the very difficult mobilisation of Muslim women and are equating it with their narrow, sectarian agenda of [using] any stick to beat the minority community with. It is abhorrent and not in the interest of anyone, least of all women. They had to give an affidavit to the court and they gave it. But the claim of the government that they support all women’s rights and the Hindu laws have all been reformed shows that the last thing they stand for are women’s rights.

There are innumerable petitions by women in different courts about the Hindu Succession Act, the issue of adoption, the issue of guardianship. And the issue of marriage and choices of partners when you marry inter-caste invites strong opposition. The BJP government has refused to intervene. Why don’t they — since they have suddenly discovered women’s rights — legislate against Khap Panchayats?

Let me also underline that any reform in the Hindu personal laws happened in spite of the Jan Sangh. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was dead against any reforms in the Hindu personal laws and he continues to be their icon.

So why do you think they are taking this position?

It is not a coincidence that the Law Commission has brought out a questionnaire on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) at the same time as this debate on triple talaq is happening. This very much feeds into the narrative of Hindutva forces, that it is the Muslims who are backward.

The BJP has always used UCC to browbeat the minorities. They are constantly bringing up UCC and the triple talaq even when they say the two issues are different. They are ensuring in the public mind that it is not separate. This is an act of perfidy. What they are trying to do is impose uniformity on all communities by suppressing the minorities.

If you are interested in women’s rights, the obvious way to go about it is to have a broad-based framework to reform personal laws whether they concern Muslim, Hindu or Parsis. The government should not push the women and their struggle back by making the most outrageous statements about their religion in public and to the court. Their statements and positions on Muslims and their religion will weaken the very courageous struggle that women have been leading within the community because it will strengthen the conservatives. It is an act of perfidy because the community is against UCC but there is support for abolition of triple talaq. That is the space that the Muslim women are trying to use.

They want to ensure uniformity among all communities, but they will not talk about uniformity in their fundamental rights. Why don’t they implement Sachar Committee recommendations if they are bothered about backwardness among Muslims? Why don’t you implement the Ranganath Mishra commission recommendations? Social backwardness has its roots in economic backwardness and access. Why doesn’t the government address that? So they are selective about uniformity. Democracy cannot be divided into little bits and pieces.

Published on October 17, 2016

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