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Long pending injustice to Muslim Women! Supreme Court Hearing in India to Decide Validity of Muslim Divorce Practice “Triple Talaq”

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Muslim women in India are vulnerable and insecure due to the community's practice that lets Muslim men divorce their wives by saying the word "talaq (divorce) " according to women rights campaigners. (Photo: A. Pasricha/VOA)
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New Delhi, May 10, 2017: Muslim women’s rights groups in India are hoping a supreme court hearing to decide the legality of Islamic family laws that allow Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying the word “talaq,” or divorce, three times will correct what they call a “long pending injustice” to Muslim women.

A charged debate has taken place ahead of the hearing scheduled to begin Thursday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has supported calls to end what has come to be known as instant divorce, but conservative Muslim clerics staunchly oppose overturning the practice, calling it a political ploy by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to take away Muslim identity.

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It was the lawsuit of 35-year-old Shayara Khan, a quiet, middle class woman living far away from the spotlight in the town of Kashipur in Uttarakhand state, that brought the controversial practice before the top court.The three brief words, “talaq, talaq, talaq” that came in a letter from her husband abruptly ending her marriage have been heard by thousands of Muslim women before her. In India, where each religion has separate laws that govern marriage, succession, adoption and maintenance, the practice that allows a Muslim man to unilaterally end a marriage in a matter of seconds is sanctioned under the community’s law.

The Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi: The All India Muslim Personal law Board says that clerics educate Muslim men during Friday prayer sermons about using “triple talaq (husband saying t o wife: ‘you are divorced’ thrice)” only as a last resort if life with her becomes impossible but maintains that the controversial practice cannot be overturned. Under the Muslim divorce law, women have many rights given to her by Islam. (Photo: A. Pasricha/VOA)

But Khan’s quest for justice in a life-changing decision that gave no room for her voice to be heard, takes a different track – she is challenging the practice of “triple talaq” as violating the Indian constitution that protects gender equality.

Shayara’s petition highlights how the arbitrary practice leaves them vulnerable and insecure. “Muslim women have their hands tied while the guillotine of divorce dangles, perpetually ready to drop at the whims of their husbands who enjoy undisputed power,” it said, pointing out that women have been divorced through Skype and text messages. Several other petitions have now been joined with hers.

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The court will also hear pleas challenging the validity of polygamy and another practice concerning marriage reconciliation.

As the court begins to deliberate on these controversial customs, women activists exude confidence. Zakia Soman of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (Indian Muslim Women’s Movement) is “100 per cent optimistic” that the judgment will correct a “long pending injustice” to Muslim women in India. “We want a Muslim personal law that enables equality in marriage and family matters,” she said.

However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which is at the forefront of the counter campaign to retain “triple talaq,” is arguing that the practice cannot be banned as it is allowed under Sharia laws. He said the body is educating Muslim men during sermons at Friday prayers that it should only be used as a last resort when all attempts at reconciliation have failed.

Kamal Farooqui, a board member, is emphatic that the religious laws of Islam cannot be rewritten in the name of social reform.

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“The whole jurisprudence is a God-gifted one, it is not a man-made constitution and these laws are the laws of divine which cannot be changed,” he told VOA. He questioned the courts standing in the matter. “Those honorable judges who do not know anything about Islam, who do not know the background of Quran, how can they interpret it?”

Women’s groups refute these arguments saying that what is practiced in India is a patriarchal system and a misinterpretation of Islamic law.

They point out that countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan do not allow the pronouncement of triple talaq in one go.

Hasina Khan of Bebaak Collective, another women’s organization, laments that Muslim religious leaders in India have failed to be responsive to women’s concerns. Saying that Muslim personal law is problematic in terms of divorce, property rights and inheritance, she said women have knocked at the door of Muslim bodies several times. But “they have not listened, not given priority for the Muslim women’s struggles, that is why we had to come to the court,” she said.

The Supreme Court begins a landmark hearing on Thursday to decide the legality of the Muslim divorce practice known as “triple talaq” which is allowed by Muslim family law in India. (Photo: A. Pasricha/VOA)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has told the court that the practice denies Muslim women “the full enjoyment of fundamental rights under the constitution,” and cannot be regarded as an essential practice in Islam.

Modi himself has supported the cause of ending triple talaq from public platforms on several occasions. In his latest reference to it, he expressed confidence that reformers from within the community will come forward to change the status quo. “I appeal to the Muslim community to not politicize the issue.”

However conservative Muslim bodies remain deeply suspicious of the BJP’s support for ending triple talaq. “It is nothing but a political propaganda against Islam,” said Farooqui.

Underlying their suspicion is the fear that the issue is being used by the Hindu nationalist BJP with an eye to bring in a common family law for all citizens, irrespective of religion. The issue has been long debated in India, but always consigned to the back burner by political parties. (VOA)

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee: A Peace Visionary and a Man Who Believed in India’s Destiny and was Ready To Fight For It

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee -- one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it -- that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum.

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Atal Bihari Vajpayee,
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's peace visionary. Image: Flickr

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a man of moderation in a fraternity of jingoistic nationalists; a peace visionary in a region riven by religious animosity; and a man who believed in India’s destiny and was ready to fight for it.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (93), who died on Thursday, will go down in history as a person who tried to end years of hostility with Pakistan and put development on the front burner of the country’s political agenda. He was also the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term.

Even though he lived the last 13 years of his life in virtual isolation, dogged by debilitating illnesses and bedridden, he has left an enduring legacy for the nation and the region where he was much loved and respected across the political spectrum and national boundaries, including in Pakistan.

Vajpayee, former Indian Prime Minister
Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the tumultuous period he presided over the destiny of the world’s largest democracy, Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state and then almost went to war with Pakistan before making peace with it in the most dramatic fashion.
In the process, his popularity came to match that of Indira Gandhi, a woman he admired for her guts even as he hated her politics.

He also became the best-known national leader after Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.

After despairing for years that he would never become Prime Minister and was destined to remain an opposition leader all his life, he achieved his goal, but only for 13 days, from May 16-28, 1996, after his deputy, L.K. Advani, chose not to contest elections that year.
His second term came on March 19, 1998, and lasted 13 months, a period during which India stunned the world by undertaking a series of nuclear tests that invited global reproach.

Although his tenure again proved short-lived, his and his government’s enhanced stature following the world-defying blasts enabled him to return as Prime Minister for the third time on October 13, 1999, a tenure that lasted a full five-year term.

When finally he stepped down in May 2004, after an election that he was given to believe he would win, it marked the end of a long and eventful political career spanning six decades.

Vajpayee had gone into these elections riding a personality cult that projected him as a man who had brought glory to the nation in unprecedented ways. The BJP’s election strategy rested on seeking a renewed mandate over three broad pillars of achievement that the government claimed — political stability in spite of the pulls and pressures of running a multi-party coalition; a “shining” economy that saw a dizzying 10.4 percent growth in the last quarter of the previous year; and peace with Pakistan that changed the way the two countries looked at each other for over 50 years.

The results of the elections could not have come as a greater shock to a man who was hailed for his achievements and who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 influential men of the decade.

Success didn’t come easily to the charismatic politician, who was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, into a family of moderate means. His father was a school teacher and Vajpayee would later recall his early brush with poverty.

He did his Masters in Political Science, studying at the Victoria College in Gwalior and at the DAV College in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he first contested, and lost, elections. He began his professional career as a journalist, working with Rashtradharma, a Hindi monthly, Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly, and two Hindi dailies, Swadesh and Veer Arjun. By then he had firmly embraced the ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
But even as he struggled to win electoral battles, his command over Hindi, the lingua franca of the North Indian masses, his conciliatory politics and his riveting oratory brought him into public limelight.

Also read: For Modi, Road To 2019 Will Be Steeper

His first entry into Parliament was in 1962 through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. It was only in 1971 that he won a Lok Sabha election. He was elected to the lower house seven times and to the Rajya Sabha twice.

Vajpayee
Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975 and put her political opponents in jail. When the Janata Party took office in 1977, dethroning the Congress for the first time, he became the foreign minister.

The lowest point in his career came when he lost the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, that too from his birthplace Gwalior, after Rajiv Gandhi won an overwhelming majority following his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination. And the BJP he led ended up with just two seats in
the 545-member Lok Sabha, in what looked like the end of the road for the right-wing party.

In no time, Vajpayee was replaced and “eclipsed” by his long-time friend L.K. Advani.
Although they were the best of friends publicly, Vajpayee never fully agreed with Advani’s and the assorted Hindu nationalist groups’ strident advocacy of Hindutva, an ideology ranged against the idea of secular India.

Often described as the right man in the wrong party, there were also those who belittled him as a moderate “mask” to a hardline Hindu nationalist ideology. Often he found his convictions and value systems at odds with the party, but the bachelor-politician never went against it.

It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee — one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it — that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum. It was this trait that made him the Prime Minister when the BJP’s allies concluded they needed a moderate to steer a hardliner, pro-Hindu party.

He brought into governance measures that created for India a distinct international status on the diplomatic and economic fronts. In his third prime ministerial stint, Vajpayee launched a widely acclaimed diplomatic initiative by starting a bus service between New Delhi and Pakistan’s Lahore city.

Its inaugural run in February 1999 carried Vajpayee and was welcomed on the border by his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It was suspended only after the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament that nearly led to a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The freeze between the two countries, including an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border for nearly a year, was finally cracked in the spring of 2003 when Vajpayee, while in Kashmir, extended a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan. That led to the historic summit in January 2004 with then President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad — a remarkable U-turn after the failed summit in Agra of 2001. Despite the two men being so far apart in every way, Musharraf developed a strong liking for the Indian leader.

His unfinished task, one that he would probably rue, would be the peace process with Pakistan that he had vowed to pursue to its logical conclusion and a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

He was not known as “Atal-Ji”, a name that translates into firmness, for nothing. He could go against the grain of his party if he saw it deviate from its path. When Hindu hardliners celebrated the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque at Ayodhya, he was full of personal remorse for the apocalyptic action and called it — in a landmark interview to IANS — the “worst miscalculation” and a “misadventure”. He even despaired that “moderates have no place — who is going to listen to the voice of sanity?”

In his full five-year term, he successively carried forward India’s economic reforms programme with initiatives to improve infrastructure, including flagging off a massive national highway project that has become associated with his vision, went for massive privatisation of unviable state undertakings despite opposition from even within his own party.

While his personal image remained unsullied despite his long innings in the murky politics of this country, his judgment was found wanting when his government was rocked by an arms bribery scandal that sought to expose alleged payoffs to some senior members of his cabinet. His failure to speak up when members of his party and its sister organisations, who are accused of killing more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat, was questioned by the liberal fraternity who wondered aloud about his secular proclamations. He wanted then Chief Minister — now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — to take responsibility for the riots and quit but was prevailed upon by others not to press his decision.

A day before his party lost power, Vajpayee was quoted as saying in a television interview that if and when he stepped down he would like to devote his time to writing and poetry. But fate ruled otherwise. The man who once rued that “I have waited too long to be Prime Minister” found his last days in a world far removed from the adulation and attention — though across the nation people prayed for his well-being — surrounded only by care-givers and close family whom he even failed to recognize. (IANS)