After the law criminalising triple talaq was passed, home minister Amit Shah wrote that PM Narendra Modi would “go down in history as a social reformer in the league of Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar”. The difference is that the latter addressed patriarchy in their own community, while Modi and the BJP are solely concerned with saving Muslim women from Muslim men, to paraphrase Gayatri Spivak. Spivak used the phrase “white men saving brown women from brown men” to describe colonial governments invoking women’s rights to justify their civilising mission in the colonies. Farah Naqvi too has pointed out the discourse of the “saved Muslim woman” that underlies the Islamophobic state policy of the US and now India. After triple talaq and Article 370, the next two items on the Hindutva agenda are the Ram temple and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC)—issues central to the core ideology of the BJP’s parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). An all-male organisation that sets the agenda for the current regime, its women’s wing, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, is confined to women’s work. Unlike the male RSS, the female RSS members are ‘servants of the nation’, swayam or self being conspicuously absent from the organisation’s name. It is no accident that Article 370’s abrogation produced a spate of comments such as “now we can marry Kashmiri women”, even from the Haryana CM. The violent implication—Kashmiri women are for Indian men to do with as they will. So forgive my scepticism regarding the Sangh formations’ commitment to gender equality, or to the security of Muslim women, invariably the target of sexualised attacks during communal violence generated by its politics. The RSS agenda is of conflating the nation and Hindutva, for the project of homogenising and consolidating Hindus, while assimilating or expelling Muslims.
Once the Supreme Court ended triple talaq (due to petitions filed by Muslim women), why criminalise it? Divorce, maintenance and custody of children are civil matters. As it is, Muslim men are in prison far in excess of their proportion in the population. The criminalisation of triple talaq is part of the Hindutva strategy of further criminalising Muslim men—false cases of cow slaughter, terrorism, and now desertion of wives. If all men who deserted wives were to be imprisoned, large numbers of men from all communities, especially NRIs, would be behind bars. Clearly, the BJP is only concerned with showing Muslim men their place in Hindu Rashtra.