Modi condemning triple talaq hints at a BJP strategy of politicising the issue ahead of assembly elections in UP. (Photo: The Quint)

Poll Position: Modi’s Stand On Triple Talaq Aimed At UP 2017


Speaking at a public rally in UP’s Mahoba on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took up the cause of his Muslim behnein or sisters, saying triple talaq was discriminatory. He went on to outline his government’s position on the issue. Modi’s assertion in a state where polls are a few months away marks a significant departure from an earlier reference to relief camps set up after the Gujarat riots as “baby producing factories”.

After the riots, the Gujarat government’s decision to shut 121 relief camps, sparing only eight, caused hardship. The main sufferers were Muslim women – many of them pregnant – and children, because their damaged houses offered little security. Is lending support to a demand made consistently by Muslim women and other progressive sections, including men in the community, indicative of a change of heart? Or has this position been articulated because it has the potential to politically benefit the BJP?

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BJP’s Campaign in Favour of UCC

Prior to Modi wading into the now raging controversy on whether there should be a ban on triple talaq or not and if legislating a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is the best route for securing this, several BJP leaders and ministers have spoken on the issue. One of the reasons why the issue of unilateral and verbal declaration of divorce has got mired in controversy is the campaign that has been started, which presents enacting the UCC as the only way of ensuring justice and equal rights for Muslim women.

This campaign has been led by members of the BJP, other leaders of the Sangh Parivar and most importantly, by responsible ministers. The issue has also been projected as a Hindu-Muslim divide because of the Law Commission’s decision to assess public opinion whether triple talaq should be abolished and whether UCC should be legislated. The Muslim Personal Law Board’s predictable response has added to hardening of postures.

Though Modi has not lent any support to the campaign for beginning a debate on UCC, he did not send a clear signal that this move would be against the interest of social harmony. In Mahoba, Modi requested that the debate on banning triple talaq not be reduced to a Hindu-Muslim conflict or one where battle lines are drawn between government and opposition, the BJP and other parties.

Modi also charged other parties of indulging in “vote-bank politics” by pandering to conservative sections among the Muslims. This argument attempts to force a divide between “hapless Muslim women” and the men in the community.

Also Read: Twisted Tale of Triple Talaq: Is There a Progressive Way Forward?

Photo: <b>The Quint</b>
Photo: The Quint

Arbitrariness of Triple Talaq

But the demand for UCC and its response from conservatives among Muslims sharpens social attitudes of Hindus against them because the views of the minority, though a vocal group, is interpreted as the opinion of the entire community. The BJP campaign on alleged high fertility rate of Muslim women in relief camps in Gujarat was one of the factors for polarising the state further in 2002 and securing greater backing of Hindus. Similarly, it can be contended that the campaign for UCC has been mounted with the objective of ‘demonising’ dominant sections among Muslims and sequentially secure electoral benefit for the BJP.

Politicising Triple Talaq

  • PM Modi condemning triple talaq aimed at consolidating votes ahead of assembly elections in 2017.
  • Campaign against triple talaq similar to BJP’s campaign based on alleged high fertility rate of Muslim women in 2002.
  • In the absence of a codified law, some practices have emerged that deprive the Muslim women of their constitutional rights.
  • Politicising the issue in the name of Uniform Civil Code will only increase the insecurities of the minorities.

There clearly is no case for the continuation of triple talaq and other practices in Muslim personal law that do not provide women equal rights as enshrined in the Constitution. A debate on personal law raged in the Constituent Assembly because while Jawaharlal Nehru was steering the Hindu Code Bill that codified Hindu personal laws, there was no attempt to codify personal laws of other communities, most notably Muslims.

Shyama Prasad Mookerjee thundered that the “government did not dare to touch the Muslim community”. Rightly or wrongly Nehru and his supporters were of the view that the majority community had to make the minorities feel they “were Indians and be completely at home.” Eventually, the Hindu Code Bill was put in abeyance in the Constituent Assembly and later split into four separate bills – Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, the first of which was passed in 1955.

Muslim women protest against the BJP government over its opposition to the practice of triple talaq in Thane, 22 October, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Muslim women protest against the BJP government over its opposition to the practice of triple talaq in Thane, 22 October, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Codification of Muslim Personal Law

Personal laws in India have been similarly codified for Christians and even Parsis but not Muslims. The central issue is whether triple talaq should be done away by codifying Muslim personal law or whether it should be attempted by raising the politically sensitive matter of enacting UCC. In 1937, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act was passed with the purpose of ensuring that customary law does not take the place of Muslim personal law. But in the absence of a codified law, customary practices that diverge from values and principles of the Quran have emerged, constitutional principles are violated and Muslim women do not have equal rights, especially in matters of marriage and divorce.

The interpretation of the Quran has also been a matter of dispute. Experts have claimed that globally new codes have emerged and these have reduced arbitrariness if not ended it completely. There is thus an urgent need for a comprehensive codified family law for Muslims to ensure justice within the family.

Just as there is a Hindu Marriage Act or Christian Marriage Act, the government needs to initiate the process for enacting a similar law for Muslims irrespective of the name given to it.

The argument that UCC must be the only objective just because it is listed in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) smacks of political opportunism. One must recall that DPSP is a veritable wish list of our first lawmakers and states.

Members of the  All India Muslim Personal Law Board during a press conference in New Delhi on 13 October 2016. (Photo: IANS)
Members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board during a press conference in New Delhi on 13 October 2016. (Photo: IANS)

Linking Poll Campaign with Triple Talaq

It would be unfortunate if the BJP campaign in UP links triple talaq with UCC because of the need is to codify Muslim laws. The case for UCC is all the more sensitive because of the fear that Article 25(B) of the Constitution which says that “Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion” can be expanded to include Muslims.

Already, significant members of the RSS have begun voicing their opinion in private conversations, which raises concerns that it would pave the way for imposing the Sangh’s idea of nationalism on all citizens. The UCC, it is feared, will be a tool in this process.

Even laws do not necessarily ensure rights. For instance, despite six decades of the passage of Hindu Succession Act, Hindu women still do not get a share of family property in the argument that dowry (direct or indirect) takes this into account and property remains within patriarchal control. As Muslim women activists have been claiming, the need is to codify the Sharia on the basis of both religious texts and the constitutional framework that enshrines equality and justice.

Raising the demand for UCC will be akin to waving a red cloth in front of a raging bull and will only strengthen the obscurantist groups among Muslims. This will further harm those that the PM has now called his sisters.

(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent books are ‘Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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