Former Judge of Supreme Court, Markandey Katju, known for his proximity with the Muslim community and liberal forces in India has suggested some ways to emancipation for one of the most backward communities of India according to the Rajinder Sachar Commission report headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar. It was originally published in The Hindu.
Here is the full text:
The results of the elections to the 17th Lok Sabha and the scale of the mandate for the Bharatiya Janata Party have made many Muslims in India despondent. But perhaps it is a blessing in disguise.
Since Independence, Muslims have been treated as a vote bank by the Indian National Congress and other so-called secular parties; the community has only been used by the political class with very little having been done for them.
As the Justice Rajinder Sachar Commission has reported, most Muslims in India are still relatively poor and backward. They have been in the grip of reactionary maulanas and crafty politicians with their own vested interests in mind and who have propagated the idea that no government at the Centre and in many States could be formed without their help. This illusion has now been shattered by the result of the 2019 general election. The recent interview by Karan Thapar with former Union Minister Arif Mohammed Khan illustrates this.
The number of seats won by Muslims in this election could now force the community to ponder over their welfare, how to remedy the situation and improve their lives.
The main cause of their sorry plight is their backwardness, which in turn is due to the reactionary and feudal mindsets of some leaders who claim to represent them both from the clergy and the political class.
Path to progress
In order to change this, the community will have to take three radical steps. The first is demanding a uniform civil code for all Indian religious communities. This, by implication, means an abolition of the outdated feudal Sharia law. The law is a reflection of social conditions at a particular historical stage of a society’s development. So as society changes, the law too must change. How can a medieval law be applicable in the 21st century? The abolition of Sharia will not mean the abolition of Islam. Almost the entire old non-statutory Hindu law was abolished by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 — but Hinduism has not been abolished by that.
Sharia treats women as inferior. It permits talaq (verbal) only to Muslim men, not women, and is thus a Damocles sword over the latter. It gives only half as much to daughters as to sons in inheritance. It sanctifies the backward-looking rule of nikah halala. All this has helped keep the community backward; when women who constitute half the Muslim population are not treated as equals, it obviously and adversely affects the entire community.
The second is a demand to abolish the burqa as it constricts the freedom of women. However, many have said it should be the women’s choice whether to wear a burqa or not. But, surely, no such choice should be given as it constitutes a ‘negative’ freedom. There should be no freedom to continue backward feudal practices and they should be suppressed if the country (including Muslims) is to progress, as was done in Turkey by the leader, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. A heavy fine should be imposed on women wearing the burqa, as has been done in parts of Europe.
The third is a demand to abolish the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a non-statutory body set up in 1973 in the time of Indira Gandhi, whose eye was on the Muslim vote bank. The AIMPLB comprises reactionary clerics and other people most of whom have reactionary mindsets whose aim is to protect and continue the outdated feudal reactionary Sharia law, which in fact harms Muslims. The AIMPLB strongly opposed the progressive and humanitarian Shah Bano judgment (1985), which granted maintenance to divorced Muslim women, and which led to the Rajiv Gandhi government getting the judgment legislatively annulled. Recently, the AIMPLB took another reactionary step by advocating the setting up of Sharia courts in every district.
A note for youth
Atrocities on Muslims such as lynching or hate speeches, or framing of false charges should be condemned. But there can be no support for backward practices, whether among Muslims or Hindus (such as the caste system or looking down on Dalits). It is time now for Muslims, particularly the youth, to rise and demand putting an end to feudal reactionary practices which are the biggest cause of backwardness in the community. This is the only means to their salvation. As Maulana Azad said to Muslims in 1947 at the Jama Masjid: “Nobody can drown you unless you drown yourself. Nobody can defeat you unless you defeat yourself. The moment you realise this, you develop the confidence that this country is ours, along with others.”
(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India)