Triple talaq verdict: Can India finally become truly secular
It took India more than five decades longer than its neighbour, Pakistan, to ban a grossly misogynist religious practice in the Muslim religion that allowed a man to instantly divorce his wife by using 'triple talaq,' that is, uttering the word 'talaq' three times to her in verbal or written form.
While such a fact might run the risk of downplaying a major victory, which the ban no doubt is given the big relief to women of the community that is has provided, it is imperative to remember that it has taken seven decades after independence for the largest democracy in the world to achieve it.
And that too, after the highest court of the land had to step in and make the decision. Though the verdict is a clear win for women's rights against a grave social injustice, it has also brought out in the open the failure of Indian secularism practised till date.
The highlight of it being the ability of small segments of religious orthodoxy, that exists in every faith, to stop the country from initiating much-needed reforms based on human rights, that every modern society should have as its basic tenets.
The latest decision though provides the opportunity for India to course correct and evolve the doctrine of secularism to one where religion has no say in government policy and moves away from that of appeasement of fringe groups that comes at a great cost to not only minorities within religions, like women, but to society as a whole.
Yet, chances of this becoming a reality seem glim given the various factors that have marked the poor track record of the country on the issue so far.
Indian secularism: Politics of appeasement and vote banks
The opportunity that India has provided for religious leaders to have power at the level of the politics comes from the model of secularism chosen by it where the government would engage with different religions and was to ensure equal treatment to every religion as can be seen as support for the Haj pilgrimage as well as the Amarnath Yatra, instead of the one adopted by the west of having nothing to do with religion like those in countries like France.
Such a decision, though understandable given the realities of the time such as the plural nature of the country, the deep-rooted role of religion in lives of Indians, and the circumstances of partition along with the fear of minority religions in presence of a huge population of a single majority religion, Hinduism, laid the foundations of the present day reality of politics of appeasement.
This has led to a status-quo that is contrary to the hopes of the the makers of the Constitution that their decision, over a period of time, would not only take away concerns of minorities by ensuring their social, cultural and political upliftment but also evolve the society into a secular state where government and especially politics would have little, if anything, to do with religious affairs.
Instead not only has such an evolution not taken place, the opposite of it seems to have come true. As seen by the growing polarization in the politics of the country not only in the form of faith based parties but also the use of religious groups by political leaders as vote banks, through the relationship of quid pro quo, that is, favours and support in return for votes continue till date.
Some of the most famous examples of these are the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindutva groups or the Rajiv Gandhi government's decision to pass an Act to counter the progressive judgment of the Supreme Court in the famous Shah Bano case.
The state of Muslim community proves it
While examples other religions can also show the failure of secularism practised in the country, the state of the Muslim population of India is quite clearly the prime example that indicates the need for a change on this front.
Following the nature of partition, which took place based on religion, the vulnerabilities of those belonging to the religion were a major concern of those in power at the time. Yet all the hopes of the positive impact their steps would have to the community have borne little fruit.
As Muslims,14 per cent of the total population, are the poorest and worst educated religious group in India, according to government surveys. The Sachhar committee, set up in 2005, to determine the status of the community in its report went on to further point to the conditions their troubled conditions such as 'backwardness' as well as disproportionate representation in employment opportunities, especially in government jobs.
While only the tip of the iceberg, such conditions show that irrespective of how well they are treated at the time of elections and wooed for their votes on the basis of their community, the so-called secular parties like the Congress have failed to alleviate the conditions of Muslims even after being in power for more than five decades.
Along with this, the numerous communal riots related to the majority and minority religious groups further bring out the failure of the secular stature that India prides itself on.
Rise of Hindutva: A case of "two wrongs don't make a right"
These facts seem to matter little even after the change of guard at the national level, with the Narendra Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party replacing the grand old party of India. The BJP, backed by its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which talked of not following the appeasement model, has fallen into the trap of replacing a minority group with that of the majority.
And this has just gone on to the show the problems of those dealing in power dealing with religious groups. Since the Modi government came to power at the centre, along with the rise of the saffron party in a majority of states in the country, instead of the focus being on the much-hyped slogan of 'sabka saath sabka vikas,' it has witnessed the rise of communal incidents such as those of lynching's related to cow, a sacred animal for Hindus, which have ended up increasing the feeling of discomfort among the minorities.
This would do nothing but push the marginal groups like Muslims back into the arms of the parties like the Congress and cause the repetition of the cycle of the last seventy years.
Developments of such nature have made even those who would have been in favour of the eventual implementation of the Uniform Civil Code, as was the wish of those who drafted the Constitution, to become sceptical. As concerns have risen over the possible nature of it being more in line with the Hindutva agenda than having a basis in human rights like equality.
A past filled with such decisions, circumstances and mistake go far in showing the cause behind the duration for a free country undertake a reform so basic and obvious in nature such as the ban on instant talaq. The hope though remains, similar to those of who fought for the country's independence, that the next one will not take as long.