Anita Joshua and Piyush Srivastava, TT, March 17: The debate on Muslims that Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched over the weekend has assumed a sharp edge and got yoked to seemingly unrelated yet inseparable topics.
For one, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath recounted the disrobing of Draupadi in the Mahabharat to condemn the silence over instant triple talaq.
On the same day, singer Sonu Nigam described as " gundagardi" the use of loudspeakers to broadcast sermons and calls to prayers. Nigam did mention temples and gurdwaras but he had started out by tweeting he was not a Muslim and was woken up by azaan (the muezzin's call to prayer). He also wondered when this "forced religiousness" would end in India.
The pronouncements by both Adityanath and Nigam had no direct link with what Modi had said yesterday in Bhubaneswar: "Muslim sisters should get justice. If there are evil customs, society should be awakened and efforts made so that Muslim women get justice." The Prime Minister had taken care to add that the matter should be resolved without any conflict.
Such restraint was not in evidence today when Adityanath spoke.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister told a book release event in Lucknow: "When some people have their mouth shut on a burning issue of the country, it reminds me of that meeting in the Mahabharat where Draupadi's cheer haran (disrobing) was done. Draupadi had asked a question in that meeting that who is responsible for this episode? Who is guilty of this sin? Who is guilty of the incident of cheer haran?
"Nobody could say anything except Vidur (the wise uncle of the Pandavas and the Kauravas). Vidur had said one third of the guilty were those who actually disrobed her, one third were their associates present there and one-third were those who were silent."
Adityanath continued: " Aur mujhe lagta hai desh ka rajnitik chhitij jab maun bana hua hai is desh ke triple talaq ke mamle ko le kar, sach-much unhe bhi katghare mein khara kar deti hai puri vyawastha; apradhiyon ke saath-saath apradhiyon ke sahyogiyon ko aur maun logon ko. (I believe that when the political class is maintaining silence on the issue of triple talaq in this country... the system puts them in the dock: the criminals, their aides and those who are silent.)"
The back-to-back statements on instant triple talaq - by Modi yesterday and Adityanath today - appeared to many in the Muslim community as a chorus to queer the pitch ahead of crucial hearings of a constitution bench of the Supreme Court in less than a month.
Together with the broadside launched on azaan by the singer, the practice of throwing statements in the air and letting them take a life of their own appeared to have added to the sense of siege within the minority community.
On the issue of instant triple talaq, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan's Zakia Soman welcomed the Prime Minister's statement while preferring not to engage with Adityanath's comment, maintaining that the fight was for upholding constitutional values.
The Andolan is one of the parties in the case in the Supreme Court against instant triple talaq and has not been taken in by the code of conduct for divorce issued by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) yesterday.
Soman said Muslim women had waited too long for change and did not want to be at the mercy of the board and its supporters. "We want a Muslim family law enacted by Parliament, like the Hindu Succession Act and the Hindu Marriage Act, so that the stranglehold of religious bodies over the community ends."
This, she clarified, should not be mixed up with a uniform civil code.
Some others in the community found the chorus over triple talaq suspect. "If the Prime Minister and the chief minister are trying to send a message to the court, I am sure the Supreme Court will see through this," said Hyderabad MP and the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Asaduddin Owaisi.
Jamaat-e-Islami Hind secretary-general Salim Engineer told The Telegraph: "Let the courts decide. Are they trying to interfere in the court proceedings...? It is highly objectionable that when the matter is in court, such influential people in the government are speaking in such a manner."
Both Owaisi and Engineer questioned the "newfound" concern of Modi and Adityanath for Muslim women.
"If they are so concerned about the well-being of Muslim women, why not ensure justice for Zakia Jafri or the Muslim women who were raped during the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013?" Jafri is the widow of Gujarat politician Ehsan Jafri who was killed along with others in the Gulbarg Society massacre during the Gujarat carnage of 2002.
Engineer added that if the two were so concerned about divorced Muslim women, they should enact a law mandating government jobs for them within six months of divorce.
"Why is the Modi government showing no compassion towards JNU's missing student Najeeb's mother who is also a Muslim. Modi speaks about backwards among Muslims but the attack on slaughterhouses in Uttar Pradesh is affecting the Quraishi community the most," Owaisi said.
According to Owaisi, data collected by the Muslim Mahila Research Kendra (MMRK) through RTI applications in family courts in Muslim concentration districts showed the prevalence of divorce among the minority community to be lower than Hindus, contrary to the perception that is sought to be made about his community being a perpetually divorcing lot.
Asma Zehra of the MMRK and a member of the AIMPLB said a random sample survey of 13,000 women across the country showed 100 cases of divorce, of which a dozen were through instant triple talaq. "No one is denying that there is misuse of the provision of triple talaq but laws will not change that. Have people stopped taking dowry because there is a law against it?"
The Congress wondered why Modi and Yogi were playing politics with triple talaq when the Supreme Court was looking into the matter and every section of the society had agreed to abide by the verdict.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: "There is no reason to muddy the water when the Supreme Court is seized of the matter and the verdict could come in weeks. There is no reason to influence or overpower the verdict by playing politics on the issue and sensationalising it for obvious reasons."
On Adityanath's silence charge, Singhvi said: "We can't help if some people keep their eyes and ears shut. The Congress has always favoured gender justice; its leadership has been on the forefront of reforms in the past. But we have a balanced report, not motivated by partisan political motive. Muslim organisations have already said the manner and practice of the most offending part of triple talaq are contrary to the Sharia law."
In Lucknow, Adityanath had waded into the subject while releasing a book on Chandra Shekhar on the late Janata parivar leader's 91st birth anniversary.
"Chandra Shekhar had asked why there shouldn't be a common civil code and similar marriage rules when there is the same criminal procedure for all. But some people are observing a criminal silence on these burning issues... on talaq," Adityanath said after releasing the book.
The chief minister then recounted the Draupadi episode.
AIMPLB general secretary Maulana Wali Rahmani described the chief minister's comments as " jahilana" (foolishness).
"He is linking talaq with a greater issue, the disrobing of Draupadi. No sane person will do so," Rahmani said.
All India Shia Personal Law Board spokesperson Maulana Yasoob Abbas said: "The triple talaq is wrong, as is the tendency to remain silent on this issue... but it cannot be equated to disrobing."
Reacting to Adityanath's statement, AIMPLB member Zafaryab Jilani said: "The community is not ready to give up the Sharia at any cost. We have decided on our own to boycott those who don't follow it during the triple talaq. But some people, including the Prime Minister, are issuing strange statements on this matter."
Samajwadi Party general secretary and former minority welfare minister Azam Khan, known as his party's "Muslim face", also targeted Adityanath.
"We have been silent on the tradition of sati. So far, our ulemas have not spoken about it," Azam told reporters in Rampur when asked to comment on the chief minister's statement.
Sati, the ostensibly voluntary but often forced burning of Hindu widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands, was outlawed in 1829 but stray instances are reported even now.
Javed Akhtar, poet and lyricist, today criticised yesterday's pronouncements by the law board, which had spoken of making "people aware of the misuse of the triple talaq".
In a tweet, Akhtar said the law board's "call for boycotting abusers of triple talaq is a hoax".
"Triple talaq itself is an abuse n should be banned. They are trying to stall it," he added.
Several young Muslim women who spoke to this newspaper last evening had termed the board's approach "cosmetic" and regretted its failure to ban the instantaneous talaq outright.
Additional reporting from PTI