Justice Markandey Katju –
The recent Lok Sabha election results have made many Indian Muslims despondent in view of the massive BJP victory. But in my opinion, it is the best thing which could have happened to them and is a blessing in disguise.
Since Independence Indian Muslims were treated as a vote bank by Congress and other so-called secular parties, who only used them but really did little for them. As the Justice Sachar Committee reported, most Muslims in India are still relatively poor and backward. They were kept under the grips of reactionary maulanas and politicians who had their own vested interests and axes to grind and thought that no government in the Centre and many states could be formed without their help. This illusion has now been shattered. Karan Thapar’s recent interview of the former Union Minister Arif Mohammed Khan (which has gone viral) amply illustrates this ( see on YouTube ).
In my opinion the recent Lok Sabha election results, in which the seats won by Muslims was reduced to just 27 out of the total 543 seats ( not a single one belonging to the ruling BJP ) will now force the Indian Muslims to think seriously about the causes of their deplorable condition, and how to remedy the situation and improve their lives.
In my opinion, the main cause of the sorry plight of most Indian Muslims is their backwardness, which in turn is due to their reactionary and feudal mindsets, which they have not been able to get out of due to the hold which the Muslim clergy and politicians have on them.
To change this Indian Muslims have to take 3 radical steps:
- Demand a uniform civil code for all Indian religious communities. This by implication means abolition of the outdated feudal sharia law. Law is a reflection of social conditions at a particular historical stage of a society’s development. So, as society changes, the law too must change. How can a law made in Arabia in the 7th century be applied in the 21st century? Can Manusmriti be applied today? And abolition of sharia will not mean abolition of Islam. Almost the entire old non statutory Hindu law was abolished by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Hindu Succession Act, 1956 etc. but Hinduism has not been abolished by that.
Sharia treats women as inferior. It permits oral talaq only to Muslim men, not women, and thus it keeps a Damocles sword hanging over the latter. It gives only half as much to daughters as to sons in inheritance. It sanctifies the barbarous rule of nikah halaala. All this has helped keeping the community backward, since when women, who constitute half the Muslim population, are not treated as equals, it obviously adversely affects the entire community.
- Demand abolition of burqa, by which women are kept as in cages. When I had earlier said this, many Muslims said that I want Muslim women to go about nude or in a bikini. But surely a woman wearing a sari or salwar kameez is not nude nor wearing a bikini. Others said it should be left to the choice of women to wear burqa or not. In my opinion no such choice should be given. Too much freedom is also bad. There should be no freedom to continue backward feudal practices and they should be suppressed if the country (including Muslims ), is to progress, as was done in Turkey by the great leader Mustafa Kemal. Heavy fine should be imposed on women wearing burqa, as in France and some other European countries.
- Demand abolition of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. This non statutory body was set up in 1973 in the time of Indira Gandhi, whose eye was on the Muslim vote bank. The AIMPLB consists mostly of reactionary clerics and other mostly reactionary people, and its aim is to protect and continue the outdated feudal reactionary sharia law, which in fact harms Muslims. When the progressive and humanitarian Shahbano judgment was given in 1985, granting maintenance to divorced Muslim women, the AIMLB strongly opposed it, and this led to the Rajiv Gandhi Government getting the judgment legislatively annulled. Recently, the AIMPLB took another reactionary step by advocating setting up sharia courts in all districts in the country.
I have always condemned atrocities on Muslims, like their lynching or hate speeches against them or framing false criminal charges against them and then arresting them, but I am not an appeaser and I strongly oppose backward practices, whether among Hindus (like caste system and looking down on Dalits ) or Muslims. It is time now for Muslims, particularly Muslim youth, to now rise up and demand an end to feudal reactionary practices which is the only way for their salvation. As the great leader Maulana Azad said to Indian Muslims on 23rd September 1947 in Jama Masjid “Nobody can drown you unless you drown yourself. Nobody can defeat you unless you defeat yourself. The moment you realize this, you develop the confidence that this country is ours, along with others.”
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]