The Bharatiya Janata Party energetic campaign to impose a ban on triple talaq is ostensibly an expression of concern born out of love for Muslim women. It is a love that does not wait for requital. It is a love that is a mix of fantasy, suspicion, fear, jealousy, and guilt. It is also a neurosis, which does not require treatment, politically advantageous for the BJP as it is.
This neurosis enables Hindutva warriors to imagine they are engaged in a battle of modernity, of winning rights for Muslim women who have been deprived of them. And because it is assumed Muslim men will oppose them, the Sangh does not think anyone will oppose its knights of progressivism.
Even Muslim women will. This is why the BJP claims that a percentage of Muslim women voted for it in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The party has no statistical evidence to cite in its favour.
The party’s fantasy is based on an assumption that Muslim women live in the perennial shadow of triple talaq, their lives blighted with the doom awaiting them when their husbands pronounced the dreaded word three times. It is another matter that divorce among all social groups in India, regardless of their religious persuasions, is a fraction that of the marriages among them. The 2011 census says the divorce rate among Muslims was 0.56%, as against 0.76% among Hindus.
There is no doubt that a ban on triple talaq will make the annulling of marriages gone sour more humane. Nevertheless, it is absurd to think that triple talaq is a hot-button issue for Muslim women whose myriad problems in their daily lives will be resolved because of a ban on it. But the suitor has decided otherwise – and she had better agree.
Fantasy and suspicion hand-in-hand
At the BJP’s national executive meeting in Bhubaneswar on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have said, “If Muslim women want to fight this, [Bharatiya Janata Party] workers should stand by them.”
Since the prime minister is omniscient, the Muslim woman will indeed fight triple talaq. The question of “if”, therefore, does not arise. In any fantasy, the drama unfolds in accordance with the script of the visualiser. Already the revolution, first witnessed in Uttar Pradesh, has spread to Gujarat, which is to have its Assembly election later this year.
Muslim women are said to have contacted CR Patil, a Member of Parliament who was in the team that organised the prime minister’s recent trip to Surat. Patil said, “Many Muslim women had contacted me and showed their eagerness to welcome the prime minister… There will be over 1,250 Muslim women, a majority of them dressed in burqa.”
The burqa has its advantages – it announces to all that the person wearing it is a Muslim woman. But the burqa also stokes suspicion whether the person veiled from head to toe is the person she claims to be.
In the last two rounds of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party made a representation to the Election Commission to deploy women security personnel at “sensitive and hyper-sensitive polling booths”. The representation said the reason was: “To establish the identity of burqa-clad female voters.”
Who suspects the fidelity of the person whom he loves? One whose love is a fantasy must inevitably suspect his object of affection in reality.
But this fantasy of love also has as its driver the Sangh’s demography-related fears of Muslims outstripping the Hindu population. An aspect of this fear is love jihad, a campaign that accuses Muslim men of wooing Hindu girls in order to convert them to Islam. The Sangh has retaliated against Muslims through a campaign that it refers to as: “Bahu Lao, Beti Bachao”, or “bring a daughter-in-law, save a daughter”. This campaign, the Indian Express reported, has gained wide currency in West Bengal.
In contrast to these intimidating methods, through his opposition to triple talaq, the prime minister has shown a new way of winning the love of Muslim women. Since triple talaq shackles Muslim women, including those who are single or are content in their marriages, the prime minister, symbolically speaking, is the knight who will liberate them from their claustrophobic existence.
The liberated, it is assumed, are inevitably bound in gratitude to the liberator. There are exceptions, obviously. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, its soldiers thought Iraqis would pour out on to the streets to welcome them. Alas, that did not happen. In democracy, though, it can always be claimed that the liberated voted in large numbers for the liberator, the moderniser, as the prime minister has been styled.
To the Sangh footsoldiers, Modi is the 21st century Indian version of Sir Walter Scott’s Lochinvar who is “so faithful in love, and so dauntless in war.” For sure, we have several examples of the “faithful love” that runs deep among Sangh leaders.
Here is a quiz question.
Who said the following:
“And if we bring Narmada waters in the month of Shravan, then too they say they dislike it. So what should we do? Do we go and run relief camps? Should we open child-producing centres? We want to firmly implement family planning. Hum paanch, humare pachees [We five, our 25] (laughs)”?
The answer: Narendra Modi, in his 2002 election speech in Gujarat.
But Modi is not the only person who has alluded to the baby producing propensities of Muslim women. In August, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat made a PowerPoint presentation in Agra on the issue and exhorted Hindus to produce more babies. Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sakshi Maharaj has also asked Hindu women to have at least four children each.
Rivalry and jealousy
The Sangh’s traditional view of women is to see them in the child-bearing role, which was articulated starkly by Himanshu Prasad Poddar, the founding editor of the Gita Press, which played a significant role in disseminating the Hindutva ideology through its publications.
In Gita Press And The Making of Hindu India, author Akshaya Mukul writes,
“The core job of a woman was to serve the world. How? Poddar used two terms – utpadan (literally translated it would mean manufacturing or production) and nirman (literally construction or creation.) Thus a woman’s job was to procreate and nurture ‘quality men’.”
In utpadan and nirman, Muslim women have beaten their Hindu counterparts hollow. They do not plan their families not because they belong to the poor and illiterate class, but because producing children is an act sanctioned by Islam, of which yet another despicable strand is triple talaq, so the Sangh thinks.
There are Muslim women who are opposed to triple talaq, as are Muslim men. But the men are never alluded to in the Sangh’s rhetoric on divorce. They are not because, psychologically speaking, the Sangh perceives Muslim men as rivals of Hindu men in the race to prove virility, of which the most telltale proof are children.
In the Sangh’s imagination, Muslim men win the competition for producing babies, and proving virility because they enjoy the unfair advantage of unreformed gender-insensitive Islamic laws. It is also an unfair advantage because Hindu Personal Law was reformed, but not Muslim Personal Law.
From this perspective then, a ban on triple talaq will make the competition to prove virility through producing of children a bit even. How? It will empower Muslim women and inculcate in them the spirit to challenge their husbands so eager to exploit them. Rebellion will become a habit with Muslim women.
Love that is sick
Now, another quiz question. Who said the following:
“Probably in the rest of Uttar Pradesh Hindu women run away with Muslim but in Gorakhpur, Hindu men marry Muslim women and bring them home”?
The answer: Adityanath, months before he became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. With a rhetorical flourish typically his, he has now compared the silence on triple talaq to the silence on Draupadi’s cheer haran (disrobing and, therefore, dishonour.)
But did Adityanath utter a word on the cheer haran of Muslim women reported during the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013?
Journalist Neha Dixit reported in Outlook the testimonies of several Muslim women who were stripped naked, raped before their relatives, and killed. One woman Mehraz told Dixit she heard the assailants shout, “Musalmanon ki laundiyaon ko rakh lo [Keep all the Muslim girls].”
Mehraz added, “There were eight to 10 boys who seemed to be on a mission. They’d strip a woman, attack her and rape her. Then they’d grab the next one, within minutes.”
Was the mass rape of women in the 2002 riots of Gujarat riots an example of cheer haran?
Syed Ubaidur Rahman of the Milli Gazette collected accounts of Muslim women who were raped, or witnesses to rape. For instance, Fatima Bibi Md Yaqub Sheikh said her sister and niece were repeatedly raped by a mob and then burnt alive. In the mob were also Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activists, in khaki shorts, Fatima told Rahman.
To identify and give a name to the BJP’s sudden surge of obsession with Muslim women, you will have to recall the attributes of a love about which you might have read or seen or, frighteningly, experienced.
You know him as a person who loves a woman to whom he has barely spoken. At times, she glances at him even though blankly. He thinks she is responding to his overtures. He lurks outside her home when she steps out, he is there when she returns. He follows her on her walk. He can know from her expression whether she is happy or bored or in distress, or so he thinks.
What would you call this man?
Indeed, the BJP’s love for Muslim women is that of a stalker, who, regardless of reality, will fervently believe he is loved – and will get her vote if he were to ever stand in an election.
Ajaz Ashraf’s article, ‘If Pakistan and 21 other countries have abolished triple talaq, why can’t India?’ can be read here.
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