Dear Leaders in Congress,

This is my second letter for you. I would like to further emphasize that “your definition of secularism is skunky and murky“. You need to go back to the true definition of secularism.

At a high level secularism is defined in the following manner. I am speaking more in context of Indian, UK and US secularism not in terms of Communist secularism.

  1. Separation of religion and state.
  2. Equal treatment of all religions.
  3. Regulation of religion and the institutions if it encroaching in to any secular/non-religious aspect of the society i.e. say family relationships, inheritance, politics etc.

Let me explain, What Shah Bano case is, how Congress under Rajivji reacted to it, what is the short/long term impact of Congress’s action and what would have been the right for the Congress.

What is Shah Bano case:

In 1932, Shah Bano, a Muslim woman, was married to Mohammed Ahmad Khan, an affluent and well-known advocate in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, and had five children from the marriage. After 14 years, Khan took a younger woman as second wife and after years of living with both wives, he divorced Shah Bano, who was then aged 62 years. In April 1978, when Khan stopped giving her the ₹200 per month he had apparently promised, claiming that she had no means to support herself and her children, she filed a criminal suit at a local court in Indore, against her husband under section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, asking him for a maintenance amount of ₹500 for herself and her children. In November 1978 her husband gave an triple talaq to her which was his prerogative under Islamic law and took up the defense that hence Bano had ceased to be his wife and therefore he was under no obligation to provide maintenance for her as except prescribed under the Islamic law which was in total ₹5,400. In August 1979, the local court directed Khan to pay a sum of ₹25 per month to Bano by way of maintenance. On 1 July 1980, on a revision application of Bano, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh enhanced the amount of maintenance to ₹179.20 per month. Khan then filed a petition to appeal before the Supreme Court claiming that Shah Bano is not his responsibility anymore because Mr. Khan had a second marriage which is also permitted under Islamic Law. On 23 April 1985, Supreme Court in a unanimous decision, dismissed the appeal and confirmed the judgment of the High Court.

If we look, Judiciary took a very progressive stance on Muslim women rights. After the backlash from Islamic clergy, Rajivji passed the “The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986

The crux of the law is: A divorced Muslim woman is entitled to reasonable and fair provision and maintenance from her former husband, and this should be paid within the period of iddah i.e. for 3 months. After the 3 month iddah period, the magistrate is empowered to make an order for the payment of maintenance by her relatives who would be entitled to inherit her property on her death according to Muslim Law. But when a divorced woman has no such relatives, and does not have enough means to pay the maintenance, the magistrate would order the State Waqf Board to pay the maintenance.

Essentially, 3 months after uttering “talaq-talaq-talaq” husband has no duty to maintain his wife and Children, they are literally on their own. Isn’t this inhuman? Apart from Muslims, men from every other religion have to provide maintenance for his wife/children if they are incapable of earning.

There were Muslims from within the Congress who sided with the SC verdict( for e.g. Arif Mohammad Khan, the current Kerala Governor), there were other Muslims in Congress who stood against the verdict. Rajivji decided to side with the later and passed the law nullifying the SC judgement.

By doing this, he made the fundamentalist forces happy and suppressed the progressive elements. This boosted the morale of the fundamentalist forces, now we are seeing many Muslims ditching congress and Shifting to Islamic extremist parties like AIMIM and Abbas Siddiqui, the West Bengal Cleric. INC cannot match the levels of Islamic fundamentalism of Owasi or Abbas Siddiqui. Due to this action INC has also distanced from the Hindus by portraying itself a party siding with radical Islamic Clergy. Ultimately, INC lost Hindu votes and the Muslim votes are slipping away on a long term basis. This may result to an electoral demise of Congress.

Lets see, what would have happened had if INC had taken a progressive stance and sided with SC. First, The progressive elements and the ladies would have gotten stronger within the Muslims, and they would have had respect and regards for INC for inducing a reform, just as Hindus respect Raja Rammohun Roy. With the radical elements remaining in check, radical elements would have found it difficult to wean away the Muslim voters from INC. Secondly, this would have projected that INC is a secular party and Hindus would have not have lost trust on Congress. It is not a coincidence after this incident no Gandhi has been the PM.

From an electoral perspective, if INC had sided with SC judgement, the INC would have created the image of a reformer, who is interested in true benefit of the Muslim even at the cost of short term popularity. You have shown the guts in reforming Hindu society. You gave equal rights in ancestral property to Hindu Daughters in 2005, which is commendable. But where does your guts go in improving the standard of Muslim Women? Mind you, if you were a well wisher of the Muslims, you would have worked for the upheaval of Muslim ladies which you never did, rather you did the opposite.

For short term benefits, you scarified your long term future. Mistakes can be corrected, but that will require dedicated efforts.

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