A Secular, Nationalist Approach is Needed!

When politicians start debating, rather arguing, over religious issues linked particularly with minorities, one is compelled to deliberate on how serious they really may be. The same may be said about the noise being made nowadays about triple Talaq and the Uniform Civil Code. It is not the first time that controversy over these issues has hit headlines. Apart from helping these noise-makers gain some media coverage, this political storm cannot be expected to achieve much. Let us accept, certain religious and ritualistic issues are so deeply ingrained in the Indian society that it is practically impossible to expect the much talked about reforms to be easily acceptable by all.

Spare a moment and just deliberate on which part of most Indians’ life is not linked with religion? Some religious sign is perpetually visible in residential premises, the offices, vehicles and is also a part of most individuals’ personality, as a mark on forehead and/or part of dress or its colour. Imagine what would be the reaction of millions if they were asked to abandon these religious symbols and display none on their dress, face, etc particularly at their respective office places. Even the politicians fall in the same bracket. This is marked by the wide ranging dress designs and colours visible in Parliament. The varying dress patterns reflect the regional, religious as well as the personal inclinations of the parliamentarians. Do you think they are likely to agree to the idea of having a dress code for Parliament? It hardly seems possible.

The same may be said about numerous rituals deeply ingrained in typical Indian lifestyle. These are visible in most lives in practically each moment, from morning till evening. Some even practice habits, deeply engraved in their life-style, including who/what should they see first on waking up, what should they drink/eat and so forth. Many give a lot of importance to stepping out with a particular step, on not stepping out if they have sneezed, what colour should be worn on what days and so forth. Have you wondered on why meat sellers and barbers’ shops are closed on Tuesdays? For religious reasons, some communities don’t eat meat on Tuesdays. It is considered inauspicious by some communities to cut hair on Tuesdays. Thus out of respect for sentiments of these communities, these shops are closed on Tuesdays. Now, there prevail no prospects of this issue being ever debated on by those who don’t link Tuesday with religious beliefs. And perhaps this aspect should be viewed as one of the many symbols of Indian secularism.

Rather than attaching religious tag, secular lens should be used to address issues that demand attention for progress of Muslim women, Muslim community and country as a whole. After all, only Muslim women and men are not afflicted by socio-economic problems. However, now and then, noise is made on several issues in a manner projecting as if they are the most backward of all. It is time that some attention is paid to the hard fact that problems faced by the Muslim community, including women, are more strongly linked with socio-economic problems affecting the country as a whole. And these cannot be resolved by only addressing some religious aspects. For instance, though dowry is not permitted, yet practically all communities are suffering from its impact. Similarly, bias still prevails among all religious groups, with females not being given the same importance as males. Practically speaking, can these problems be solved by viewing them only and exclusively through the religious lens? No. The majority have strong reservations about their religious beliefs being tampered with.

If the objective is directed towards improving conditions of all women, it would be far more practical to pay greater attention to increasing facilities for their development, social and economic. This naturally requires greater educational and economic opportunities for them. Simply making noise about issues such as dowry and divorce is least likely to achieve much. Also, considering that Muslims constitute less than 20 percent of the country’s population, Muslim women may be assumed to be less than 50 percent of the Muslim population. In other words, it would be far more sensible to make efforts for improving conditions of Indian women as a whole than making noise about sufferings of less than 10 percent of them.   

It may be noted that the Uniform Civil Code is directed at reforms of each and every major religious community in the country and not just Muslims. Strangely, when politicians make noise about Uniform Civil Code, they tend to create an impression as if they are talking about only backwardness and similar problems of Muslims. This naturally creates the impression as if they are deliberately targeting Muslims more for political reasons and hardly for their progress. Perhaps, it is high time when such issues, including backwardness, were viewed without the religious tag. These are problems faced by the Indian society as a whole and not just by Muslims. A rationalis, secular approach is needed to address them.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 November 2016 on page no. 11

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