When Chennai was up in arms at the Marina Beach last week, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi on 20 January attempted to broaden the debate by tweeting : “Lesson for Hindutva forces, Uniform civil code cannot be ‘imposed’. This nation cannot have one culture. We celebrate all.”
He added and said, “People of Tamil Nadu by uniting and coming together have forced the Modi and AIADMK govt to change law to overcome Supreme court judgment.” What was implicit was that Indian Muslims too should come together to resist any attempt at removing triple talaq. Now, while campaigning in Aligarh, Owaisi has fleshed out his argument further by stating that Muslims have their own culture and should be allowed to marry and divorce the way they want to.
Owaisi’s ire is directed against the Narendra Modi government that told the Supreme court in October last year that “gender equality and dignity of women are non-negotiable Constitutional values” and that “religious practises cannot be an impediment to rights”. Then in the last week of October, Modi at an election rally in Bundelkhand, had said the debate should be between Muslims who want reforms and those who do not want reforms.
“Is it fair for a man to say ‘talaq’ thrice over the phone and a Muslim woman’s life to be ruined?” Modi asked at that public meeting. Owaisi saw this as Modi’s interference in a matter that was sub-judice. His party leaders say that the process of divorce is determined according to Muslim religious laws and the objection is to others interfering in it.
The government claims it is going by the larger mood in the Muslim community, especially women, that triple talaq should be done away with. It says even nikah halala (which means a woman has to marry another man in order to remarry a former husband) is a practise that should be banned.
I am surprised that Owaisi is in kolaveri (anger) mode particularly since he is a young educated Muslim politician with progressive ideas. Earlier this month, he argued for subsidy for Haj to be cut and those funds to be instead given to educate young Muslim girls. How is it that the same Owaisi argues for the same Muslim girl to be trapped in regressive religious and marital practices that have no space in 21st century India?
Will the real Asaduddin Owaisi stand up please?
I suspect that in his urge to appeal to the more radical elements in the Muslim community, with the Uttar Pradesh polls round the corner, Owaisi is wearing his more radical skull cap. Owaisi knows that a Bihar-like zero performance in Uttar Pradesh, will scuttle his ambitions to have a pan-India footprint for his party. If you listen to this part of the speech, there is wild cheer from the predominantly male audience to this kind of a rabid line. Men deciding the fate of women, may well appeal to an Uttar Pradesh Muslim electorate. But is this the kind of India Owaisi wants to see?
Owaisi argues that of the 7.36 crore married Muslims in India, just one percent have gone in for talaq. This arithmetic, to Owaisi’s mind, does not justify the BJP making it a talking point ahead of the elections. Victimhood was a sentiment one encountered on the sands of the Marina, the feeling that the Tamilians were being discriminated against. Whether it was upper riparian Karnataka refusing to release Cauvery water despite a Supreme court order or whether it was the ban on the traditional sport of jallikattu. The mood in Chennai was “Who are they to tell us what not to do?”
Owaisi is wearing the same victimhood on his sleeve and asking who are “they” to interfere in Muslim religious practises?
Though the apex court is hearing the case, Owaisi would ideally prefer Muslim scholars and ulemas to review triple talaq. Which essentially means status quo because the Muslim Personal Law Board has taken an anti-women stand on the issue of triple talaq.
A survey done by Mumbai-based Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan last year showed that 92 percent of Muslim women respondents wanted the practice of triple talaq to be abolished. If the Law Commission, that is at present speaking to different stakeholders, arrives at similar findings, it will expose Owaisi as a leader who is not in sync with what his essential voter base desires.
Incidentally, in September, Abid Rasool Khan, Chairman of the Minorities Commission of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, wrote to the Muslim Personal Law Board that it should relook at the practise of the triple talaq. The Board was not amused at the suggestion.
“Triple talaq in the manner in which it is practiced, is leading to harassment of women. It is quite likely that the practise will come under the scanner and pave the way for the imposition of uniform civil code,” said Abid Rasool Khan.
It is the smart politician in Owaisi who makes the connect between the opposition to Jallikattu ban and the opposition to Uniform Civil Code and linking them with the thread of tradition. But it is a disturbing comparison that Owaisi is seeking to make. Will it mean that if the Supreme court bans triple talaq, the men in the community will do a Marina-type uprising against it?
Owaisi would agree that practise of triple talaq makes the community look bad. The Chennai template is an inspiring one but perhaps the Hyderabad MP would consider borrowing it to say `talaq’ to the abominable tradition for ever.