In October, when elections were hardly in the mind of the public, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a passionate appeal from a public platform in poll-bound UP to stop injustice towards Muslim women.
“It is the responsibility of the government and the people of the country — lives of Muslim women cannot be allowed to be ruined by triple talaq,” he said while advocating a ban on the Islamic practice of divorce by uttering the word talaq thrice.
Three weeks before Modi’s parivartan rally, the law commission had issued an appeal on October 7, inviting all stakeholders to give their suggestions on all possible models and templates of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). One of the 16 questions asked was: Should the practice of triple talaq be abolished in toto, retained the custom or retained with suitable amendments.
The move kicked off a countrywide debate with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board refusing to participate in any conversation with the commission.
However, as Modi had said the emotive issue should not be politicised, the clerics shifted their focus to the impending legal battle maintaining that courts cannot scrutinise the Muslim personal law as they follow the Koran.
The debate on personal law vs Constitution was picking up when triple talaq found its way into the election manifesto of the BJP for Uttar Pradesh, a state with 19% Muslim population with high (40%) to moderate (25%) concentration in west UP, polling on February 11 and 15.
The manifesto promised that the BJP government would take the opinion of Muslim women and present it in the Supreme Court. Personal laws fall in the concurrent list and both state and Centre can legislate leading to scepticism in the community.
Adding fuel to fire were statements displaying BJP’s commitment to end the evil social practice. What seems to have piqued the community is the BJP’s silence on other contentious issues — female infanticide was raised by Modi himself at the same rally.
Socially, the burning issues of honour killing, riots, rape and rehabilitation, and the political issue of quota for women in legislatures and Parliament have not found mention in BJP’s manifesto.
And while projecting itself as a benefactor of Muslim women, the BJP has not fielded even a single candidate from the community, less so a woman.
Now, BJP ministers are strategically pushing the emotional issue of triple talaq, much to the consternation of the community.
Union minister Smriti Irani tried to corner the Samajwadi Party and Congress leaders asking them to spell out their stand on the emotive issue. Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi refused to react as it’s a non-issue in the elections.
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it was not a religious issue and pertained to women’s dignity, justice and equality. He listed 20 Islamic countries that either restricted or abolished it, whereas India was not even willing to discuss and debate it. The community was hardly amused.
Instead, the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board petitioned the Election Commission of India demanding action against the BJP for exploiting the triple talaq issue for political interests. Its chairperson Shaista Amber wants a ban on triple talaq but condemns the BJP for making it a poll issue. That’s the general mood of the community.
Muslim clerics define it as a threat to India’s pluralism and diversity; new age Muslims denounce the practice but prefer to keep it out of the realm of politics.
This burgeoning class of young Muslims is not averse to online fatwas and five-star Islam, they don’t depend on local mosques for their knowledge on Islam but they also don’t want politics on triple talaq.
They see the UCC bogey as an effort to “discipline Muslims” instead of “developing” them.
Some surveys reveal that despite focus on triple talaq that manifests their vulnerability, Muslim women are increasingly taking to entrepreneurship. And they want Modi to keep his words, “Koran in one hand and laptop in the other”.
They support a ban on triple talaq but are not for a party advocating it. Thus, the BJP’s attempt to divide the community to create a vote-bank is only strengthening its resolve to vote them out.
The UCC is BJP’s trumpeted electoral promise and though it helps in building a majoritarian public opinion, it fails to garner votes.
Can it be a polarising issue?
Triple talaq lacks the polarising zing of issues like cow slaughter, love jihad and migration, primarily because it does not socially or economically impact the Hindus directly.
The community refuses to react or revolt the way it did in the case of love jihad. It’s not an issue discussed on the streets and academic circles. Instead, it’s a legal battle.
In fact, making light of it, Asaduddin Owaisi even gave triple talaq an interesting turn saying people of the state have decided to divorce Modi, Akhilesh and the Congress.
Why is the BJP making a poll issue out of a non-issue then? Perhaps to take forward their 2014 commitment on a Uniform Civil Code.