Bebaak Collective (Voices of the Fearless), have issued a statement univocally condemning the comment made by the BJP leader Subramanian Swamy in an event in Mumbai on Friday, 27th October that the party could win in Uttar Pradesh elections because Muslim women believed that it was BJP who could save them from ‘triple talaq’. (See, “Muslim women felt only BJP could save them from triple talaq says Swamy” Indian Express, 28th October)
BJP leaders have time and again celebrated the victory of the recent judgement that invalidates the instantaneous practice of triple talaq and the leadership have often claimed the victory to itself, strategically pointing out the silence of the Congress government during the Shah Bano case.
The enormous media debate, after the judgement, underplayed the efforts of women’s movement and turned it into a game of political rivalry between BJP and Congress. In fact, BJP’s constant reference to the violent and gender discriminatory practice of triple talaq seems to feed into the imagination that the Muslim community is conservative and violent which also creates fractures within the community and legitimises the targeted violence of the men of the community in beef cases or in fabricated terror cases.
“We strongly condemn the appropriation of the struggle of women’s groups and want to reiterate that triple talaq could be declared unconstitutional owing to the sustained work of women’s groups in the community and also, because of the legal intervention made by grass-roots women’s groups in the apex court supporting Shayara Bano’s petition who challenged the validity of unilateral triple talaq in the court. Bebaak Collective, which is a campaign group, and works with several other grassroots organisations across states, was one of the petitioners to intervene in the court supporting Shayara Bano.
On 22nd August 2017, the honourable Supreme Court of India adjudicated that instantaneous triple talaq will not be acknowledged by the law on a 3-2 majority in a five bench trial while maintaining the ethos of equality as enshrined in the Indian Constitution. This judgement is ‘historic’ in terms that it gives a legal acknowledgement to the demands of Muslim activists across the country and also occult the self-styled ‘authentic’ representatives of the community–All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).
However, in the aftermath of this judgement, there have been series of occasions where the standing government consciously tried to hijack the victory and misrepresent the events. It must be remembered that it was women’s groups who approached the court and not the current government who only filed an affidavit when directed by the court. However, the successive statements from BJP ministers congratulating Muslim women and projecting BJP as the sole messiah of the community has resulted into further polarization within the community and makes it appear as if the Muslim women’s leadership aligned with the right-wing government around this issue.
It appears that these stories before the Gujarat elections and assembly elections of 2019 will strengthen the image of the current government as a champion of women’s rights which will successively translate into winning election booths. We strongly resist this appropriation and unabashed manipulation of the Muslim community and especially the women.
On this occasion, we want to ask whether the government has made any real policy level intervention to better the social security of the Muslim community or even whether the government is bringing any schemes or policies to change the material realities of the Muslim women and girls in particular who seem to have evoked this government’s sudden empathy. While it must be remembered that as soon as this government came to power, it criminalized beef consumption and trading; there is an increasing number of cow vigilantes under the patronage of the government and other right-wing forces. Incidents of the killing of Muslims and Dalits on suspicion of beef possession are a much-reported reality while the perpetrators of the violence against Md. Akhlaque, Pehlu Khan, Junaid are roaming scot-free.
Besides, where was this government when the incidents of mass rape in Gujarat massacre and Muzaffarnagar riots were being pushed below the carpet or orchestrated? What has the government done to recuperate the lives of several Muslim families who were victims during Muzaffarnagar riots and those who migrated to neighbouring villages and towns? What did the government do when the hindutva strategies like Love Jihad were getting strengthened and anti-Romeo squads were functioning in the states like Uttar Pradesh? These protectionist agenda not only led to the social segregation between the majority and minority communities but also impacted the lives of Muslim women whose mobility was restricted further within the walls of their home.
Where is this verbose government when Najeeb from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi went missing? Why is it being silent partisan with the JNU administration in shielding the ABVP students when Fatima Nafees, as a Muslim woman and citizen of this county, is demanding justice for her disappeared son? We challenge this government to protect the rights of Muslims by ensuring that they implement Sachar Recommendations and they pass the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011.
Only if we see any progressive move in this direction could we believe that this government is in any way interested in safeguarding the rights of Muslim women. Otherwise, these statements and empathy remain hollow as the ruling dispensation has time and again demonstrated that Muslims are second class citizens of this country and prone to both systemic and vigilante attacks.
The government is now shamelessly trying to capitalise on the thirty-five years-long struggle of women’s movement, which stood by the Muslim community. This statement is a reiteration of strong voices of women activists within the Muslim community, an emergent leadership which cannot be squashed or appropriated by any forces. The current government which otherwise maintains a stoic silence on any incident of violence towards the community, should not try to strike any ‘emotional cord’ with the women of the community while claiming to be their messiah and yet consorting with the dream of ‘hindu rajya’. It must be remembered that this appropriation of the judgement will not only mar the complex questions of gender rights but also reduce the role of progressive political forces as redundant ideas and we must fight against this.”
Bebaak Collective (Voices of the Fearless) is a campaign group primarily functioning from Mumbai and fighting against fundamentalism and repressive forces from an intersectional feminist perspective.