July  2004 
Year 10    No.99


Coincidence or ominous?

In the last week of June, The Times of India splashed news on its front page, reporting that in its up-coming meeting in Kanpur on July 4, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board is at last going to call for an end to the obnoxious practice of triple talaq (instant divorce) by Muslim men. There followed a set of contrary statements from different officials of the Board.

Some maintained that the issue was not even on the agenda of the scheduled meeting and the report was communally motivated. As it turned out, the Board gave no categorical call as reported. Since then, however, the issue of triple talaq has been a matter of intense debate within the media and in conference halls across the country.

A majority among Indian Muslims apparently still goes along with the ulema’s long held view that in Islam, triple talaq ‘though bad in theology, is good in law’. This, they wrongly claim, is part of an immutable God-given law that no human agency can change and anyone who reopens this subject for discussion or debate is, wittingly or unwittingly, falling prey to the sangh parivar’s agenda of constantly demonising Muslims.

Raise the issue of gender justice and pat comes the retort: Is this the only problem, among the major problems, facing the Muslim community? And what about the growing incidence of dowry killings, feticide and infanticide among other communities leading to a dramatic decline in the proportion of women in India’s total population?

So why has Communalism Combat chosen to do a cover story on triple talaq? Is its concern for gender justice limited to focussing on triple talaq and change in family laws? Has it ever done a cover story on dowry killings or on the declining sex ratio in India?

To these posers our only honest response can be, and is: No excuses; we plead guilty. As a publication committed to gender justice, and especially given our contention that the politics of religious intolerance or religious fundamentalism have close connections with patriarchy and direct implications for gender equity, such issues should have received adequate coverage in Communalism Combat.

We promise to make up for past failings in the near future. But we make no further apologies for putting triple talaq on our cover this month. For us, the argument that triple talaq (or for that matter sati among Hindus) is an internal matter for the community is not acceptable. We have long held the view that all family laws in India, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian, are discriminatory against women; therefore, as they go against the grain of the Constitution of India, all of them must be changed.

Is this a coincidence or what? In less than two months since the BJP was voted out of power, we not only have the triple talaq debate resurfacing; We are witnessing the emergence of another issue that carries within it the possibility of blowing up into a major communal controversy: the AP government’s announcement of reservations for Muslims, followed by a clamour from several other states to follow the Andhra example.

It is more than evident from official statistics that in the field of education and employment, representation in various public services, institutions of government, state and central legislatures, secular India has denied a fair share to Muslims, who are 12 per cent of the total population. Given the state of affairs, to most Muslims the demand for a corrective reservation policy is more than justified. On the other hand, the sangh parivar has promptly greeted the AP government’s move with the cry that the Congress is back to its "Muslim appeasement" policy and threatened nation-wide protest.

One only has to recall the seething discontent over already existing reservations for SCs/STs and OBCs among the upper and middle classes to realise the explosive potential of religion-based reservations. But unless we opt for rank dishonesty, secular India has to face up to two questions: One, if religion-based reservation is wrong in principle, why have Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians been kept out of the SC/ST category? Two, in a world where the UN and many democracies are increasingly committing themselves to affirmative action, instituting equal opportunities commissions and diversity programmes, can India afford not to face up to the reality of discrimination against 150 million of its citizens?

This is the other major focus of this issue of Communalism Combat. We would also like to draw our readers’ attention to reports on the Tamil Nadu police and administration’s connivance in denying Dalits their traditional right to participation in a temple festival, recommendations of a people’s tribunal on POTA, and the wishy-washy attitude of the NCERT in acting on its proclaimed programme of detoxification of school textbooks. And, as always, we look forward to the feedback from our readers.

— Editors.


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