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Mainstream Weekly, VOL LVI No 18 New Delhi April 21, 2018

Social Reform, Muslim Women and RSS-BJP Agenda

Sunday 22 April 2018

by Ram Puniyani

In a historic judgment the Supreme Court gave the verdict that instantaneous triple talaaq (Talaaq-e-Biddat) is invalid as per the law. (August 22, 2017) Giving this verdict the Court invoked the ethos of equality of the Indian Constitution. This judgment has been path-breaking as it upholds the demands of many Muslim women’s groups on the subject. Just to recall this verdict was in response the petition filed by Shayra Bano, a victim of triple talaaq and many Muslim women groups who approached the Court in this matter. The Court asked the government to file an affidavit on the issue. The government in its submission asked for abolition of triple talaaq, nikah halala and polygamy on the ground that they inhibit gender equality.1 Interestingly now many BJP leaders and Ministers are trying to take the credit for the same and projecting as if the BJP is the one to come forward as a guardian of Muslim women’s interests. They also make it appear as if the Muslim women’s leadership is aligned with the Right-wing BJP Government on this issue.

Muslim women’s groups dismiss the claim that they are allied with the BJP in the matter and also state that it is due to their efforts that such judgment has come forth. They point out that statements like that of BJP leader Subra-manian Swamiy saying that the BJP won the UP elections as Muslim women felt that it was only the BJP which could save them from triple talaaq, is totally contrary to facts.2 In sum and substance, statements like this and the one by the Prime Minister that his government was committed to upholding the rights of Muslim women, do not have much meaning. Such outpourings on the part of the BJP leadership are just for the sake of conveying opportunistic views, meant for electoral purposes alone.

Muslim women have dissociated with the statements of the BJP leaders. “Muslim women’s rights activists have condemned the continuous attempts by the Bharatiya Janata Party to appropriate the movement against instant triple talaaq practised in the community and its efforts to make the recent Supreme Court judgment against it a political victory for the party.”3 It is true that many of those belonging to the RSS-BJP have been shedding big crocodile tears over the plight of Muslim women, the ill-effects of Muslim personal laws on women in particular. As such in practice they have done precious little to ameliorate the condition of Muslim women at the social level and have done nothing as far as legal provisions are concerned; on the contrary the implications of their politics is a big curse for Muslims as a whole including Muslim women. Women like Shayra Bano and many Muslim women’s groups have through their initiatives braved the odds to reach the courts to quash this practice which is against the principles of the Indian Constitution.

Triple Talaaq as a Practice: as a Part of Muslim Personal Law

While triple talaaq as a concept in Islamic practice has various limitations, the interval at which the word talaaq can be pronounced is well defined; the process of mediation which must be brought in the interim period is the core part of Islamic practice. As it got distorted, courtesy the helpful Maulanas, many men used this provision to get rid of their wives by pronouncing three talaaqs in a single go or even by using other means like SMS, whatsapp messages etc. This is a vulgarisation of the practice which came to be part of Islamic practices at places. Enlightened Muslim men and large sections of women have been talking of throwing away this practice by a process of social and legal reforms.

In India Hamid Dalwai, the social reformer, was among the first one to raise his voice against this. “Fifty years after radical Muslim reformer Hamid Dalwai led the first street protest against the practice of triple talaaq in Bombay (now Mumbai) along with just seven women.”4 Now his younger brother, Husain Dalwai, a Congress MP, has introduced a private member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha titled the ‘Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Bill, 2016’, which is pending. Triple talaaq has validity as it is a part of the Muslim personal law. At the another level the personal laws, Hindu, Christian and Muslim, are separate and have a legal sanctity.


Personal laws under the British administrators were drawn from diverse sources. It reflected the gender prejudices of its times since the interpreters of “religion” have been mostly men. The process of reforming regressive practices also began during the British rule. Reformers struggled to end practices like sati and child marriage. Conservative sections in the society opposed these reforms and insisted that these be preserved for the “defence” of religion.

These laws were drafted at British times and carried on in independent India. After indepen-dence Pandit Nehru set the ball of social reforms rolling. Ambedkar took up drafting of the Hindu Code Bill (HCB). The idea was that since Hindus are the largest community, once these laws are reformed, other communities will follow suit. Somehow as the draft was published, there was a big uproar against provisions of the HCB and they were opposed by the conservative sections of society, led by the likes of the RSS. As the draft was strongly opposed, including by those who were in the ruling party, the draft was diluted and passed in a milder form. This saddened Ambedkar, who decided to resign from the Ministry.

The HCB was used as a pretext by the Hindutva forces to project that the government was opposed to the interests of Hindus and was appeasing the minorities, as their laws are not being touched. A bit later after the Mathura rape case, the women’s movement picked up and put forward the demand for reforming the laws, calling for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). These laws cover marriage, divorce, custody of children and inheritance. Gradually it dawned upon the women’s movement that uniformity can be gender-unjust, laws can be made uniform by taking up different laws which are gender- unjust.5 So from the viewpoint of the UCC, large sections of the women’s movement rallied to the call for a gender-just civil code. Among Muslims, the major body opposed to social reforms has been the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

Muslims in India

Muslims in India are facing a paradoxical trajectory. A majority of Muslims are coming from a poor socio-economic background. The formation of Pakistan has been a big tragedy for the subcontinent as a whole and for Muslims in particular. It has affected the Indian Muslims to the worst possible extent. The anti-Muslim violence picked up after partition, peaking from the decades of 1980. The Muslim community came to be faced with the problem of equity and security. Due to this the problems related to social reform among Muslims took a back seat as the Muslim leadership kept struggling to focus on the issue of security, which became of paramount importance. It is in this background that when the issue of Shah Bano came up, a large section of society stood to oppose it, leading the government to go for legislating the Muslim Women’s Protection Bill. This gave a further pretext to the Hindutva elements to step up polarisation in the society and to intensify the issue of the Ram temple, increasing the degree of violence, pushing the Muslim community further into a shell. This in turn pushed the issues of reforms to the margins of the community’s concern.

Efforts of Muslim Women

Despite this, sections of Muslim women started taking up the issues of gender equality. There are many groups, like Awaj-E-Niswan, Bebak Collective, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan to name a few. The basic premise for some of these groups was that Islam gives justice to women, while others took the battle on the ground of the Indian Constitution. The latest in these moves has been the campaign launched by Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA),6 a campaign against triple talaaq. Its survey had shown that 92 per cent Muslim women were opposed to this abominable practice. It collected signatures of 50,000 Muslim women to oppose triple talaaq and also to oppose talaaq halala. In triple talaaq, a man can pronounce talaaq three times and throw his wife out of the house. In talaaq halala, if the husband decides to take her back, she has to get married to someone else, consummate the marriage, and then divorce the new husband before she can return to the earlier husband. Many maulanas offer this service of being “temporary husbands”. As per the BMMA, both these practices are un-Islamic. It points out that such practices are not mentioned in the Quran.

A memorandum submitted to the National Commission for Women points out: “The instant method of divorce has no mention in the Quran. In fact, the Quranic method requires a 90-day process of dialogue, reconciliation and mediation before divorce takes place.”7 Many Islamic scholars endorse the BMMA’s stand. However, the Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamaat-e-Isalmi did not agree with the BMMA. The Jamaat has been opposing the campaigns of Muslim women for reforming personal laws. Many progressive groups, prominent activists and writers from the community have declared solidarity with the agitating women. However, these people are being dubbed by the conser-vatives as supporters of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), a pet theme of the BJP and RSS.

The fact is that triple talaaq is banned in over 21 Muslim-majority countries including Pakistan. The rights of religious minorities for culture, right to life and affirmative action need to be supported. At the same time, the process of reform within the community must also be upheld and supported on moral, social and legal grounds.

BJP-RSS and Reforms of Laws pertaining to Muslim Women

The demand for personal law reforms by Muslim women and the BJP-RSS call for a UCC are not comparable. The RSS-BJP combo is inherently patriarchal and its pro-UCC stance is merely to intimidate the religious minorities. The same RSS had opposed the HCB, which was striving towards gender-just laws for Hindu women.8 The politics of this combine has adversely affected the social-political life of the Muslim community as a whole and Muslim women in particular. The communal violence, in many of which some affiliates of the RSS are directly implicated by Inquiry Commission reports, is based on the propaganda by the RSS combine. In the violence most of the victims are Muslims and after every major act of violence the ghettotisation of Muslims become much worse. Now the situation is such that in major cities like Ahmadabad, Mumbai and other places the Muslim areas are well marked; in the these areas the civic and modern amenities do not reach or are inadequate. The hold of the conservative elements opposing reforms in the ghettoes goes up.

The actions of the BJP leaders directed at Muslim women are aplenty. In most of the acts of communal violence, women are a major victim. In the aftermath of the Gujarat violence Narendra Modi got the relief camps closed down on the pretext that the refugee camps are ‘factories producing children’9. The current hero of the BJP, the UP Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, once went to the extent of saying that Muslim women should be dug out of the graves and raped. One such incident did take place. He was also to say that if one Hindu girl gets married to a Muslim boy, 100 Muslim girls should be made to marry Hindu boys.10,11

Ideological Foundations of Hindutva and Muslim Women

The ideological root of the RSS-BJP is Hindutva. This was brought to the fore by Savarkar in his book, Hindutva or who is a Hindu? Savarkar had a very aggressive take on Muslim women. While commenting on the incident of a Muslim woman, brought to Shivaji as a gift who was sent back and the incidents of rape of Hindu women in the context of partition of India, Savarkar’s comment is articulated by his biographer, Dhananjay Keer, ““He (Savarkar) said that Pakistan’s inhuman and barbarous acts such as kidnapping and raping Indian women would not be stopped unless Pakistan was given tit for tat. Two years earlier Savarkar had expressed similar opinion that the liberal policy adopted by Shivaji in case of Muslim women was wrong, as this cultured and humane treatment could not evoke in those fanatics the same feelings about Hindu women. They should have been given tit for tat, he observed frankly, so that they might have realised the horrors of those brutalities.”12.

The projection that the BJP is concerned about the welfare of Muslim women is a pure opportunistie stance. Most of the campaigns launched by the RSS-BJP are directed against Muslims in general and in turn are directed against Muslim women. The campaigns like Love-Jihad, beef, linking of Islam to terrorism are affecting the lives of the Muslim community and Muslim women in turn.

Muslim women need parity with Muslim men, but still they are Muslims. The BJP’s politics is based on an anti-Muslim tirade which is the foundation of their Hindu nationalism. Hindu nationalism is directed against religious minorities, and Muslims in particular. The major ideologue of the RSS, Golwalkar, regarded Muslims as a threat to the Hindu nation.13

While Muslim women do want reforms, they are also aware that the BJP voicing these concerns is a case of pure opportunism. They are just using the reforms to frighten the Muslim men, who are dominant among Muslims as a whole. Progressive Muslim women are walking a delicate balance. On one hand, they are for reforms, and on the other, they know the current ruling party will try to use it for their political goals. Their claims that Muslim women voted for them in the UP elections (2017) is something which is unverified and made so as to gain political mileage. It is far from the truth.

Summing Up

The Muslim community has been facing tremendous pressure of insecurity. It has lagged behind in social and economic parameters, as pointed out in the Sachar Committee Report. Due to these constraints, a section of the Muslim leadership has been focusing on the issues of equity and security and ignoring social reforms. Despite odds, Muslim women’s groups have been struggling for reforms, gender equality. The RSS-BJP fully back the patriarchal norms; that’s why the RSS opposed the Hindu Code Bill’s original draft by Ambedkar. Muslim women are a big victim of the politics of the RSS-BJP. The Hindutva ideology (Golwalkar) sees Muslims as a threat to the Hindu nation. While the BJP has no interest in the welfare of Muslims-Muslim women, it is using the issue of triple talaaq in an opportunist manner to serve their petty, selfish, partisan interests.


1. triple-talaaq-islamic-law/

2. article/cities/mumbai/muslim- women-felt-only-bjp-could- save-them-from-triple-talaaq-says-subramanian-swamy-4909858/

3. muslim-womens-rights- activists-condemn-bjps- appropriation-historic-triple- talaq-judgment/

4. F2HKBgP/Hamid-Dalwai-the-man-who-led-triple-talaq-stir-in-1967.html

5. uniform-civil-code-why-and-how

6. article/india/after-triple- talaq-win-bmma-proposes- muslim-family-law-based-on- quran-and-constitution- 4833411/

7. news/world/50000-muslim-women- sign-a-petition-against- triple-talaq-854997-317149. html

8. triple-talaq-muslim-lynching- bjp/

9. https://timesofindia. baits-Muslims-on-relief-camps/ articleshow/21699241.cms

10. news/hate-speech-once-more/#. cnung4l1d

11. adityanath-asks-supporters-to- convert-100-muslims-for-1- hindu-girl-news-national- oi0xDpiebfeea.html

12. Keer, Veer Savarkar, Popular Prakashan, 1966, p. 539

13. india-hindutva-narendra-modi- rss-muslims/

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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