So the Triple Talaq Bill will not be taken up by the Rajya Sabha today, due to “lack of consensus” among political parties. The monsoon session of Parliament ends today and with it the hope of bringing even a semblance of gender justice to Indian Muslim women. These 8 crore citizens of India will now have to wait until the winter session to find out if our political parties can finally put gender justice above the Mullahs of Indian secularism. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Vote bank politics wins again. Justice waits for another day.
In so far as the rights of 8 crore Indian Muslim women are concerned, this is a terrible blow. But it is much more than that. Because the Triple Talaq Bill transcended the cause of Muslim women and became a symbol of the struggle to establish rule of law in this country.
Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of a gangster turned politician and his lackeys when they throw their weight around, harassing women, beating up people in bars and restaurants, refusing to pay tolls on highways and the like? Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of a mob when it goes on a rampage? I’d bet that none of those individuals in the mob would have the courage to carry out those crimes if they were acting alone.
In either case, it is a matter of people believing that they have reached a state where the law no longer applies to them. This criminal form of nirvana, the fact that it is possible for individuals under certain circumstances to be freed from the law, is at the root of what ails our democracy.
For the last 70 years, it is things like Triple Talaq (and other Muslim appeasement based laws) that have been the most spectacular example of the power of the mob.
Everyone understood that Triple Talaq was at odds with the values of a modern secular democracy that makes no distinction between its citizens on the basis of gender. Yet, how did Triple Talaq stay legal? Because of the fear of votebanks and outright violence on the street.
Remember the “Direct Action Day” of the Muslim League? Our tallest leaders at the time, Nehru and Gandhi and Patel, bowed down to the power of the mob and acceded to the partition of India. This left a deep imprint on the psyche of the masses. The message was clear: you could push through unreasonable demands as long as you had the mob behind you. The politicians are going to fold before the mob.
Because the Republic of India had a very substantial Muslim minority, such appeasement continued. Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only big Muslim majority state, was essentially allowed to be a sovereign country all on its own. As late as 1965, Kashmir used to have its own “Prime Minister”.
Over the next several decades, the Indian state continued to fold repeatedly before the fear of the Muslim mob. There was no uniform civil code, which meant that Indian Muslims would be able to run a state within a state. Then, the Shah Bano case happened. An entrenched Prime Minister, with a monster majority of 400+ in the Lok Sabha, went down on his knees and surrendered. If the Indian state could overrule its own Supreme Court and deny a few rupees of maintenance to a 62-year-old woman, what would it not do to please the mob?
The modern state is supposed to protect the rights of the weak. That’s why we have laws. So that the poor and the weak don’t get steamrolled. But Rajiv Gandhi’s government would not stand by a 62-year-old woman against the power of the mob.
This was far from the only compromise Rajiv Gandhi made. There is also the Assam accord, which starts out by regularizing all illegal immigrants who jumped the border before 1966. Even India’s very sovereignty, the sanctity of our borders, becomes negotiable when a Muslim mob wants certain things. Today, the same Congress party (and its regional clones) supports a nationwide network of “Sharia Courts” which would visibly undermine the supremacy of our Constitution.
This is what Triple Talaq really means to India’s psyche. It is a visible symbol of mob power overwhelming human rights, democratic values, gender justice and basic decency.
No wonder then that the model of mob power was seized upon by many other groups of people to demand all sorts of things. Even in cases where the demand of a group may not be unfair in itself (especially in case of “lower” castes demanding social justice), street violence or the threat of it came to be seen as a “shortcut” towards achieving goals. No wonder that ‘everyone’ wants to use it in some form or another. In 2006, when Lalu Yadav was railway minister, his brother-in-law Subhas Yadav ‘ordered‘ Rajdhani Express to stop at Platform No.1 at Patna Junction (instead of the usual Platform No. 4) because he did not want to cross an overbridge. The ability to intimidate had become a status symbol.
Like I said, every group is to blame here up to a greater or lesser extent. Much has been written by liberals about lynchings by so-called gau-rakshaks. Those who carry out lynchings in the name of the cow are drinking from the same well as the Mullahs who force secular parties to support Triple Talaq. The secular ecosystem made mob power legitimate, even something to aspire to. No wonder certain elements on the right want to exercise the same now that they feel their side is in power.
We don’t want a competition between left and right on who can exercise more mob power. It will be a race to the bottom, a descent into anarchy.
Therefore, the Triple Talaq Bill was intended not only to bring gender justice but also to strike at the heart of mob power. This mentality is like a termite, hollowing out our democracy and eating away at our nation’s future. And it is an absolute tragedy that today, yet again, on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, this mentality won.
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.