1,400 years of wrong don’t make a right

As the triple talaq debate raged in court last week, Justice Kurian Joseph asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal if the practice wasn’t theologically sinful. Sibal’s response? “Lots of sinful things are happening in society, protected by customs.”

In its turn, the All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) had this to say: Yes, indeed, triple talaq was immoral and a sin against God, but it’s been practised for 1,400 years, so it should go on.

Notice that neither the AIMLB nor Mr Sibal disagree that triple talaq is a sin or against the Koran. But they still don’t want it abolished. And why not? Because, hey, don’t you know there’s other bad stuff happening, so why bother about one more. And why stop something that’s been around 1,400 years.

I find these lines of argument fascinating. We heard it during the jallikattu protests, we heard it during the Sabarimala issue, we hear it when a khap panchayat wants to lynch youngsters for daring to marry outside their caste, and we hear it when hypocrites point to Hinduism’s flaws as a reason to accept Islam’s.

Words like justice, equal rights, dignity or humanity go conspicuously missing, replaced by “years of tradition”.

Yes, religion is an emotional affair. Yes, you can’t counter faith with logic. Yes, nobody should insult religious customs. But as human beings evolve, one fondly imagines they try to become more sophisticated members of the animal kingdom, given they are the only ones with the powers of cognisance and articulation. That they aim for the noble work that Tennyson speaks of — “not unbecoming men that strove with gods”.

Does this sound foolishly idealistic? Well, it’s the same foolishness that urged Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vidyasagar and other early reformers to fight for widow remarriage, to abolish Sati, child marriage and purdah. These were intrinsic to Hinduism, but one realised they had to go if we were to be true to being humans first, Hindus after. It’s hard to understand, therefore, why a Muslim’s religious rights are to be placed above basic human rights. Why should a barbaric custom, unheard of in other Islamic nations, be allowed to survive in India?

There is an idea of Utopia we look to, never to be achieved possibly, but whose contours at least must constantly be drawn and redrawn. And I strongly believe that all of us must be involved in that exercise, regardless of narrower identities of gender, race, religion, or personal stakes.

That’s why debates that trivialise the core issue are infuriating. Mullahs argue that divorce in civil courts is a long-drawn, painful affair, so a brisk triple talaq is really a boon for women. That divorce rates are higher in Hindu marriages, so that puts triple talaq above the pale of criticism. Or, for instance, when pundits argue that women who demand entry into Sabarimala are not religious and might never visit the temple, so it is not their fight at all. Are we to conclude then that Ram Mohan Roy was a widowed woman, married at age 12 in a purdah? Is that what “legitimised” his fight?

Kapil Sibal said in court that triple talaq “may be sinful, but women accept it”. In response, the women in court chorused loudly, “No… No… No”.

No, Mr Sibal, Muslim women don’t all accept it. But let us, by all means, remind ourselves of some basics.

Slaves in America’s Deep South used to believe that it was against god and society to be free men. My first cook, who often came to work beaten black and blue, would say, ‘Purushan ma. Adikkadhaan seivaar’. (My husband has the right to beat me.) Abject Dalit fathers whip their sons if they defy upper caste demands because they believe Manu’s laws are absolute.

Customs, sacred books, religions and holy men say a lot of things. That’s their job. To provide a crutch for people to survive the terrifying ordeal that life is. And the things they say are meant to assure the powerless that life is going exactly as god ordained. It is for the rest of us — who clearly see that nature and humanity ordain something entirely different — to rattle the cage.

Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 6:03:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/1400-years-of-wrong-dont-make-a-right/article18584087.ece

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