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Legal Equality

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The continuing drama over the bill to punish instant triple talaaq indicates India’s continuing confusion over defining secularism in constitutional terms. In the effort to provide fundamental rights to Muslim women, a number of extraneous factors are being dragged in – particularly Islam’s supposed position on the matter and the usual adversarial politics of modern law-making. While the BJP is accused of settling scores with Muslims, the opportunistic ‘secularism’ of opposition parties like the Congress is also being exposed. When opposition leaders like Shashi Tharoor demand that a ‘common’ law be passed that would punish all men who abandon their wives – for whatever reason – it would not be hard to infer that he would like a ‘secular’ constitutional structure. When Asaduddin Owaisi alleges targeting along ‘communal’ lines, he forgets that so much of the present law makes exceptions for minorities, of which a particular example is the Muslim Personal Law. It is strange that one should support ‘communal’ laws in one case and demand a secular dispensation in another. It would not be wrong to say that it is exactly this contradiction that has prevented the minorities, particularly the Muslims, from benefiting as much as they should from democracy and the modern Indian state. It is truly ironic when so called secular parties interact with the most regressive elements among Muslims while deciding what the community needs. Politics in India has worked proactively to marginalise liberals among the community. This has made it very hard for them to take a stand on critical issues as they have to battle on two fronts. If people like Owaisi really want that Muslims should not be discriminated against, they should support the creation of a Uniform Civil Code. Many of the ‘personal’ elements of Islam have already been done away with in many Muslim countries – including Triple Talaaq. Practices like Nikah-Halala, which are still present in India, are abhorrent for modern sensibilities and a direct insult to women’s self-respect. If a more understanding approach were adopted overall regarding bigamy and other issues critically examined, the law would be the same for all. After all, do not Muslims who go and live in Western countries conform to the laws there? The ongoing radicalisation of the community might make some feel that the Sharia can be imposed on these modern democracies, but that is actually fuelling anti-Muslim sentiment and making it difficult for those seeking to escape war and repression to find refuge in these countries. It is true that a Muslim-centric law cannot be the perfect solution to problems like instant triple talaaq. India should now seriously begin working on framing a law that includes everybody and treats them all equally.