IT’S TIME TO RECLAIM ISLAM FROM THE FANATICSNergal Scott
NEITHER THE HINDU NOR THE MUSLIM (NOR INDEED THE CHRISTIAN OR THE SIKH) FAITHS ARE MONOLITHIC.
Since 1947, India has practised a form of “secularism” that has served as a time-bomb primed to explode and once again shatter into fragments the unity of the country. Nehruvian secularism is unique in that it discriminates against the “majority” community, placing restrictions on it that are absent in “minority” communities. In the first place, even within the maelstrom of identity, the terms “majority” and “minority” are misleading. Neither the Hindu nor the Muslim (nor indeed the Christian or the Sikh) faiths are monolithic. Within these hyper broad terms, there exist huge differences, and indeed, across many points of each sub-community’s cultural matrix, commonality may be more with elements of other faiths than with their own. Not that such a mixing of traditions and cultures is in any way objectionable. Indeed, the very diversity of India is what promotes an overall unity within the country, expressed strongly, for example, in situations such as war. Such tolerance of diversity has been under test recently, and not by those claiming to be the inheritors of Nehruvian tradition and practices. Ongoing efforts to introduce changes in diet or dress or lifestyle through the coercive mechanism of penal law are damaging to the future of India, for it is the tolerance for diversity that keeps the country united. Not merely beef but meat of any kind is against the order of nature, where human beings are considered. But the matter needs to be tackled through social conscientisation, not through the police, but through social reformers. If Devendra Fadnavis would like every citizen in India to stop eating beef, or if Nitish Kumar wishes a similar abstinence from alcohol, that is their right. But they are overstepping the boundaries set by democracy when they seek to enforce their personal preferences on the rest of the population through the police. Moral policing, food policing, alcohol policing are creating an image of an India in the grip of those who mimic the Saudi “Muttawa” in their approach to lifestyles. The Supreme Court has thus far retained its assent for certain Victorian laws which have been cast aside even in the country of their origin, but it is hoped that the Apex Court will in future — if it errs at all — err on the side of freedom rather than on the preservation of the repressive superstructure of the colonial state that has been retained since the time in office of that globally renowned prince of democracy, Jawaharlal Nehru.
According to Nehruvian secularism, the “majority” can do no right and the “minority” no wrong. Hence, when laws designed to bring some of the traditional practices of those professing Hinduism into the 20th century, any effort at ensuring a similar modernising exercise on the Muslim community was discarded. Since that time, much of the policies of the Indian state have had the unintended effect of distancing Hindus and Muslims from each other. Such forbearance, which Nehru thought would prevent a second partition, has in fact furthered the conditions for it, by separating citizens of India into two boxes (“minority” and “majority”) that are in practical terms meaningless.
An example is what is termed the “personal law” relating to marriage and divorce. In India, women who are born into the Muslim faith are subject to divorce in seconds, with all that is needing to be done by the husband being the repetition of the word “talaq” three times, in a manner wholly contradictory to the example set by Prophet Mohammad, who from the early days of his life treated women with the respect they merit as, among other virtues, the mothers of every human being on the planet. Despite the Wahhabisation that has continued in that country since the days of Zia ul-Haq, such a dismissive approach to the dignity and rights of a female spouse are absent in Pakistan. The personal laws as practised in India qualify to make this country among the most retrogressive in the world, a circumstance which needs to change. At a minimum, Muslim women in India should be given the same rights in divorce proceedings as their counterparts in Turkey, the original home of the Islamic Caliphate, including in restrictions on the number of wives a man is legally entitled to wed. Islamic doctrine is meant to be dynamic, adjusting to changes caused by the efflux of time, and any Wahhabi style effort to lock such doctrine into a static mode is to do disservice to its teachings.
Unfortunately, in India as in the US or the EU, “authentic” Muslims are regarded solely as those who are ultra-rigid in their views and practices. That only those with flowing beards and all-covering burqas can be “good” Muslims, which is nonsense. Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister began his fall from popular favour when in 1985 he ignored voices such as those of Arif Mohammad Khan and went ahead with legislation to reverse the Shah Bano verdict of the Supreme Court of India. It is wrong to regard the fringe as representative of the Muslim community in India, exactly as it ridiculous to tar the whole of Hindu society with a brush meant for the Sadhvi Prachis. Triple talaq as practised in India goes against every human right of Muslim women in India. While equality under the law would be the ideal at the very least, what is needed is to bring divorce and marriage practices for Muslim women here in sync with those of Turkey, a country even the most diehard in the AIMPLB would find it difficult to denounce as “anti-Muslim”.