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Triple talaq and the political game

By Smita Mishra
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'Justice of the Hon'ble SC on Triple Talaq is historic. It grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment,' tweeted Narendra Modi a short while after the majority judgement of the constitution bench of the apex court declared instant Triple Talaq unconstitutional.

Image for representation only

Just a few days ago, in his Independence Day address from the Red Fort, PM Modi had said that he admired the courage of women struggling against the suffering of Triple Talaq. He added that the nation was with them in their struggle.

The reason for quoting the Prime Minister here is no sooner had the judgement been read than the spokespersons of some political parties, particularly the Congress, started commenting (more in the tone of a warning) that the govt must not take credit for the big day.

Well, if one were just to read PM Modi's words spoken at Red Fort it would be more than clear that rather than taking credit Modi and his govt passionately recognise the struggles that women went through at multiple levels to fight this crucial case. What the govt essentially did was to stand with them and reassure them that the govt would not step back or fail them at any stage of this essentially judicial fight. And that was exactly what the govt did till the case reached its logical conclusion.

The most important role that the govt played is this regard was to give an affidavit in the court, stating in unambiguous terms that they were against such practices. In fact, all legal experts noted that this was the first time a govt at the centre had taken such a clear, unambiguous stance on a sensitive issue related to the personal laws of Muslims.

'Validity of practices like triple talaq and polygamy needs to be seen in the light of gender justice. They go against the principle of gender equality and are unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory'.

The Modi govt's consistent stand on the issue was reiterated during the UP assembly election campaign where Modi questioned 'is it fair for a man to say talaq thrice over the phone and ruin a woman's life?' In another event at the Basava Jayanti celebrations in Karnataka, Modi urged the Muslim community not to view the subject through a political lens and urged the enlightened members of the community to ensure gender equality.

Other ministers of the central govt and senior leaders of the BJP echoed the same stance from time to time. Throughout the legal battle, the centre and its law officers stuck to their position that personal laws could not infringe upon the right to gender equality guaranteed by the constitution.

Now that the majority decision is before us and each of the learned judges have made their observations clear it is time to understand why the opposition, especially Congress, is so wary of Modi getting political credit. Throughout the entire period of the legal battle, the Congress was unclear, ambiguous and non-committal on the issue. One of their luminaries argued that Triple Talaq was as much a matter of faith as Ram in Ayodhya. While another luminary from the party was assisting the court as the Amicus Curiae. Most of the spokespersons of the party vociferously argued against personal laws being touched at all and advocated that the matter be left to the community.

It was only when the decision came that they jumped into the celebrations so to say. However, such post facto declarations cannot change the facts. People have seen how the Modi govt made its stance clear right in the beginning and stuck through till the end. It was a one time message telling both supporters and opponents that when it came to gender justice the govt would not care about pandering to those organisations who have wielded power in such matters. Nobody, not even those born in the nineties, can help comparing that when a similar situation arose three decades ago, a legislation was passed in 1986 to upturn another historic decision thus denying the much needed maintenance rights to a divorced Muslim woman. There are many parallels in the cases of Shah Bano and Shayara Bano but the govt's stance has made all the difference. Political pundits can go on examining the electoral fall out of the issue but nobody had tutored those women who were thanking the Prime Minister profusely after the verdict. The worried comments of the opposition panelists are understandable.

Smita Mishra, Adviser, Prasar Bharati

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