The BJP or the RSS have petitioned or intervened in at least three matters concerning Muslim women in various courts.
New Delhi: When Muslim women had approached the Supreme Court to declare nikah halala and polygamy illegal alongside instant triple talaq, the apex court said it would not touch the two issues just yet.
But nine months later, facing four petitions on the same issue — one filed by BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay, two by Muslim women who say they are victims of polygamy, and another by a Telangana lawyer — the court has promptly agreed to have a Constitution bench examine the constitutional validity of the practices.
On Monday, the Supreme Court, responding to the petitions, noted that the five-judge bench that examined instant triple talaq had kept open the issues of polygamy and nikah halala, and issued notices to the Centre and the law commission, asking them to make their stand clear on the practices.
Polygamy is the practice of having more than one spouse, while nikah halala is the obligation on a Muslim woman seeking to remarry her ex-husband to first marry and divorce a second man.
Supreme Court lawyer Gautam Bhatia said he didn’t understand why the matter was referred to a Constitution bench. “A Constitution bench is constituted only when there is a constitutional issue at play,” he said.
“But the constitutional issue of what comprises essential religious practices etc. was already resolved last year when the court invalidated instant triple talaq,” he added.
In 2016, when different groups of Muslim women, including those divorced via instant triple talaq, approached the SC seeking a ban on the practices, the court had left the matter for consideration at a later time, subsequently only invalidating talaq-e-biddat.
The BJP question
Petitioner Ashwini Upadhyay’s plea is only the latest in a series of instances where the BJP has been seen taking a keen interest in matters pertaining to the welfare of Muslim women.
In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself made a strong pitch for “justice for Muslim women” on numerous occasions. “Our Muslim sisters should also get justice. Injustice should not be done with them. Nobody should be exploited,” he said last year.
The Muslim Rashtriya Manch — an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — too, routinely, seeks to galvanise women of the community to condemn the regressive traditions of Islam.
“It is obvious that the BJP is trying to derive political advantage from issues concerning Muslim women. But, for so long, the Muslim religious leadership has been in denial about them,” said Zakia Soman, founder of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan, which spearheaded the legal struggle against instant triple talaq and has been seeking a ban on polygamy and nikah halala.
“We have always wanted a comprehensive law for Muslim women,” she added.
Upadhyay, however, denies any political undertones to his petition. “I have filed some 50 petitions in various courts across the country. I don’t see women as Hindu or Muslim,” he told ThePrint.
“Had the Supreme Court settled the basic question last year, of whether Article 25 (freedom to practice religion) of the Constitution is absolute or subject to Article 14 (equality before law), I wouldn’t have filed this petition,” he said.
Yet, the Right-wing’s agenda to appropriate the cause of the Muslim women is hard to miss. The BJP or the RSS have petitioned or intervened in at least three matters concerning Muslim women in various courts.
The centrepiece of the fight: Triple Talaq
The BJP government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court last year arguing that the practices of triple talaq and polygamy needed to be abolished as they were “unconstitutional, discriminatory, and hurt gender equality and women’s dignity”.
The Centre’s subsequent bill criminalising the practice, moved after the SC order, sparked a huge row, with the Congress leading opposition protests against it. It remains pending in Parliament.
While the likes of Soman can see through the BJP’s curious interest in the issues of Muslim women, she says she is not blind to other parties’ disregard for them either. “The Congress has postponed a roundtable discussion with us on the issue of triple talaq thrice, and then it says the BJP is taking advantage. Of course it will,” she added.
Soman said she feared the triple talaq bill would go the same way the women’s reservation bill went, reduced to a campaign slogan.
Inheritance bias highlighted too
While headlines about the rights of Muslim women have largely focused on the campaign against triple talaq, away from the spotlight, an RSS affiliate is seeking to amend the Muslim personal law on inheritance as well.
A petition filed by the Sahara Kalyan Samiti, whose founder is also a member of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, in the Delhi high court has alleged the law is discriminatory as it allows Muslim women only half the property share men are entitled to.
…But complete silence on FGM
Despite its stated stance to fight for Muslim women’s rights, the Centre has refused to acknowledge the pleas of Dawoodi Bohra women seeking the criminalisation of female genital mutilation (FGM).
“I’ve already written to the Prime Minister, saying that, since his heart bleeds so profusely for Muslim women, he should take up the issue of FGM too,” says Masooma Ranalvi, founder of WeSpeakOut, a public campaign to help break the silence around FGM.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court last year, the government said, “There is no official data or study (by NCRB, etc.) that supports the existence of FGM in India.”
Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi had earlier said the custom would be banned by the government if the Dawoodi Bohra community did not stop it voluntarily.
“It seems that she (Maneka Gandhi) is under some pressure,” Ranalvi had earlier told ThePrint, pointing out that the religious head of the Bohra community was very close to the Prime Minister, which might explain the government’s stand on the issue.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.