modi ani interview

Courtesy ANI, Narendra Modi has clarified his position on both the Triple Talaq Bill as well as the Sabarimalatemple entry movement. Though problematic on its face it’s a remarkable effort in defense of the indefensible.

While he classified the former as a tool for ensuring equal rights for Muslim women, he ended up contradicting himself when it came to talking about gender justice for women in Sanatan faith. The Prime Minister categorically stated that the Sabarimala issue was one of tradition and was totally different from the Triple Talaq Bill which was a matter of gender equality.

Last year, the Supreme Court in a historic judgment upheld the right of Hindu women of all age group to worship at Lord Ayyappa’s shrine. Incidentally, a year ago the court also turned down Triple Talaq pronounced in one single sitting as null and void.

Lord Ayyappa, his devotees believe is a celibate, because of which entry of women is disrespectful of the deity and violates the sanctity of the temple. Basis this argument there has been a tradition where women of menstruating age are not allowed entry inside the Sabarimala temple.

Since the Supreme court judgement multiple attempts to enter the Garbhagriha by women’s groups have been thwarted by the temple board. Ayyappa devotees from across the state have taken upon themselves to block the implementation of SC’s judgment. Pinarayi Vijayan’s government, one of the most progressive in the country, though in favor of women’s entry has found it difficult to implement the court’s order. The situation has been worsened with BJP harbouring flicker of a hope of establishing itself in the southern state through the ongoing controversy – rooting for faith being the party’s only trump card.

The Prime Minister without any burden of implementing the SC order on his mind, took an unambiguous stand in favour of the ban. As it appeared from his interview the opinion of the Prime Minister didn’t offer much of a surprise except that it put to display his hypocrisy for everyone to see.

Prime Minister extended his subtle support to the citizen protests over Sabrimala despite a majority supreme court ruling in favour of the women. To support his argument he said that the voice of the one dissenting woman judge on the bench holds importance, who stood for the tradition and the continuation of the ban. On similar lines, despite placing the issues of Sabrimala and Triple Talaq on two different pedestals, minority opinion in the Triple Talaq judgment that called for the state to make law on the matter held sway as the government obliged with a bill in the parliament in real short time.

With due respect to the Prime Minister and his party’s nuanced reading of the court rulings where even the dissenting judge’s remarks hold ground, to the extent that it supersedes majority opinion and effectively discards the court ruling on the matter, one must point out that however the same curiosity at reading the minority judges opinion at other incidents are missing. This also sets forth a dangerous trend that could have implications in the Babri Masjid dispute in which a judgement is due in next couple of months. Going by the recent examples it appears even the minority ruling of the court in favour of the Mandir camp would be sufficient to galvanize public opinion.

Regardless of the Prime Minister’s balancing somersault, the reality is that the civil rights of women in India across religious and regional divide despite having constitutional backing are left at the mercy of patriarchal mindset. The positions taken by the Prime Minister only further underlines the problematic nature of gender discourse in our country. Even when the Triple Talaq Bill is being advertised as an act required for gender justice, it’s nobody’s case that it has been brought to selectively target Muslim men and put them behind bars by criminalizing triple talaq which is essentially civil in nature and has already been declared null and void by the Supreme Court. The intention of the government through this legislative adventurism is everything but gender justice. It’s a concerted effort at devicing further sophisticated tool to incriminate Muslims. Similarly, prioritizing tradition over gender justice while declining women entry in places of worship is far from being a pro Hindu woman stand.

Now that the Prime Minister has spoken the citizen must identify for him the difference between civil rights as against faith and tradition. Moreover, it must be brought to his notice that the constitution grants equal rights to the women of this country which is consistent with their faith, has scope for organic growth and places upon them necessary reasonable restrictions same as everyone else. Any extra constitutional reading of the rights paradigm therefore is grossly untenable.

Md. Aariz Imam is a political commentator

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