The BJP’s initiative to put the brakes on the menace of triple talaq may have earned the party brownie points in Uttar Pradesh, however, Kumar Vikram discovers that the move may not convert into a larger vote share from Muslim women in the upcoming LS polls
Criminalising triple talaq or instant divorce might have given Muslim women a sense of empowerment, but, they appeared to be caught in a dilemma when it comes to supporting a political party or voting. This is the story of most of the Muslim women in Azamgarh area of eastern Uttar Pradesh which typifies their predicament of being trapped between self-assertion and family tradition.
Shabina, a homemaker in Hawelia village of Azamgarh constituency, initially refused to speak on any issue when this correspondent knocked at the door of her single storey home during early evening hours. However, after a while, she did visibly relax and responded to question gazing at the ground. “What can I say? Yes, I know about triple talaq and the new rule. This is good for us (women),” she said.
When asked if she would support the BJP for this initiative, she responded nonchalantly, “BJP, SP- we don’t understand this. This is not our job.”
“Only my husband will know about this,” she added while holding her two-year-old baby Azamgarh constituency has a predominantly large Muslim population and plays a deciding role during polling. Moreover, they also come out and vote.
Shabina’s case was not an isolated one in the area. A visit to the region threw up a similar picture. The dozens of villages in Azamgarh and Lalganj constituency that we visited narrate different versions of the same story. Most of the women appeared impressed with the government’s policy on triple talaq. However, they disclosed that they are in no mood to go against the wishes of their family while voting for a candidate.
Fatima, while returning from a local market to her home in Mubarakpur village, did not shy away to express her views. However, she reacted altogether differently when asked about criminalization of instant talaq. “You tell me, how many families have such cases. I believe that only a few among hundreds. And, does it happen in our religion only. Doesn’t it happen in Hindu families? I think it just depends upon the families,” she said while expressing her feelings.
Moin Khan, Fatima’s husband interrupted saying, “This government might have done many good things. But, how can it interfere in religious and family matters. Talaq is altogether associated with the family and you can’t understand the pain of a woman or a family in such a situation. BJP is only playing the Muslim card but I don’t think it will help the party much.”
It was in August 2017, when in a landmark verdict, the apex court set aside the age-old practice on several grounds, including that it was against the basic tenets of the Quran and violated the Shariat. The government issued a triple talaq ordinance in September 2018, making the practice a criminal offence for Muslim men.
During conversation most Muslims blamed the BJP for polarisation of society and for interfering in religious matters. “We still have to spend Rs 4,000 or more per month as tuition fee in private schools. We still need to visit private hospitals to consult a doctor. Governments should concentrate more on these ground realities,” said Nasir, who runs a small business in Azamgarh city.
While visiting village after village, we encountered women accusing some saffron leaders of making controversial speeches targeting the community. “Have you heard BJP leaders what they say about our community. Once I heard a BJP leader saying that soon Muslims would outnumber Hindu population as they don’t follow population control (measures). How can they make such speeches? Do they come here to feed our kids,” she reacted with a glimmer of rage in her eyes.
Riding on the Modi wave, the BJP registered a sweeping victory getting 71 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. According to an estimate, Muslim population form about 20 per cent of UP’s population. BJP leaders believe that the Triple Talaq Bill is the party’s trump card to woo the Muslim voters particularly the women. However, the voting pattern of the State suggests that over 50 per cent of the Muslim votes generally go to SP and about 20 per cent of the community vote for BSP. Given the fact, that both the parties have come together against the ruling BJP, the community may greatly benefit the alliance.
Justice for women
Last December, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had mentioned that approximately 248 cases of instant triple talaq were reported after the SC verdict. He added that though a detailed data of such cases was not available, as per the information, Uttar Pradesh ranked the highest.Some BJP workers claimed that the triple talaq will certainly play out during voting and there will be silent voting in support of the BJP.
“It’s not that the whole community is against the BJP. You will find many Muslim women in support of the party. They have become aware now and they can see through the difference between development and politics. I believe that a section of women who are a bit educated and aware will vote for the BJP,” said a BJP volunteer in Azamgarh requesting anonymity.
While it is a moot question whether the Muslims particularly the women would break the stereotype this time benefitting the BJP, Dinesh Lal Yadav, the local Bhojpuri star and BJP candidate is quite hopeful of this. “You would not believe that they are my biggest fans. I have a large fan following among them. They like me. Whenever I visit their villages, everybody assures me that he would vote only for me.”