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Narendra Modi, the feminist? For that the PM must help women on 5 issues

No one should appropriate from Muslim women the credit for the triple talaq verdict. The NDA government can, among others, bring in a women’s reservation bill and criminalise marital rape

opinion Updated: Aug 23, 2017 15:56 IST
Dhrubo Jyoti
Dhrubo Jyoti
Hindustan Times
Narendra Modi,Shayara Bano,Muslim women
Artist Sudarsan Pattnaik creates a sand sculpture, Puri beach, Odisha, August 22(PTI)

Millions of Muslim women were freed from the shackles of an obsolete custom on Tuesday as the Supreme Court abolished instant talaq — the culmination of a long and uphill battle by victims of the practice that stretched on for more than half a century.

But on social media and television, the watershed moment soon gave way to political wrangling as Right-wing commentators and BJP leaders sought to credit Prime Minister Narendra Modi. From information and technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya, saffron party members extolled the government’s stand against triple talaq in the Supreme Court.

This invited push back from others on social media, who pointed out the fight by Muslim women — the first petitioner Shayara Bano faced attacks from clerics, community elders and Muslim leaders — and argued it was unfair to take credit away from them.

The government’s unequivocal stand against the practice, under which hundreds of women have been abandoned over text messages, WhatsApp, Speed Post or Skype, was an extraordinary shift from previous administrations that shied away from taking a stand, possibly keeping in mind an imagined monolithic Muslim vote-bank.

But the moment belongs to the many Muslim women who braved family and friends to come out against the practice, who refused to bow down to community diktat that always put gender justice last and who sought to differentiate their struggle from Hindu Right-wing characterisation of Islam as violent and regressive.

Advocating for women’s rights a long-term and challenging commitment, and if the prime minister and his supporters want to push for greater freedoms for half of India, here are the following issues they should take up

1.Women’s reservation bill: A move to guarantee a third of seats in Lok Sabha and state assemblies to women has been languishing in political oblivion for two decades now. The Congress has always indicated it backs the legislation. The BJP put the issue in its Lok Sabha manifesto but has done little since. Women form just 11% of the lower house and in many state assemblies, the situation is dire still.

If the BJP is serious about its women’s rights agenda, it should use its brute majority in the Lok Sabha to push through a bill that will likely make more women-friendly legislation a reality.

2.Scrap anti-Romeo squads: The groups of policemen in plainclothes wrecked havoc across Uttar Pradesh within weeks of the BJP sweeping to power, picking up unsuspecting couples, thrashing young lovers and setting out guidelines for public conduct. A commitment to women’s rights is intimately linked to a respect for their freedom and choice to love — and so any moral policing is incompatible with the BJP’s claimed pro-women stand.

3.Crack down on trolls: It is not unusual on social media for people to extol women’s rights and issue rape threats to women in the span of an hour. But the rub is in the fact that many of these accounts are followed by BJP office bearers, and even senior leaders. To abuse women for airing their views and threaten them with violence rape is antithetical to feminism.

4.Criminalise marital rape: In a free country with a constitutional democracy, marriages cannot be a licence for non-consensual sex. The sacrament of marriage and protecting the institution of matrimony — two reasons the government has cited over the past year to defend the marital rape exception in India law — cannot be arguments to force women into abusive marriages

5.Act against errant leaders and vigilantes: If the son of a prominent leader is involved in stalking of a woman, the party cannot be seen protecting him. If a group founded by a sitting chief minister barges into the house of a young inter-faith couple and threatens to thrash them for transgressing community boundaries, the police have to act against them. If a BJP leader is caught on camera threatening a woman officer, he cannot go scot free.


First Published: Aug 23, 2017 14:37 IST