Judiciary should not cross the Green Line

An Indian court decision has seriously challenged the constitutional right of freedom of religion of a Muslim woman, under the threat that if she is not willing to lift her veil for a voter’s card and subsequently an identification check at Election Booth, she would not be allowed to vote.

This is like instant disenfranchising of a citizen without any recourse to any legislated law of the land. For 63 years Muslim women had been most enthusiastic in lining up to vote and had been part of that “Muslim votebank” which  proved to be a make or break difference to the fortunes of many a legislator all around the nation. The burqa, niqab, hijab or chaadar of Indian Muslim women had never been a problem. To make that an issue, probably taking a cue from Western world’s current wave of Islamophobia, unfortunately has some local references too.

There is a conscious attempt to neutralize the crucial Muslim votebank in as many ways and on as many pretexts as some vested interests could devise. While at one point, BJP’s newly appointed President Nitin Gadkari has rooted for compulsory voting, to ensure that Hindus too vote en masse and thus neutralize the block voting by Muslims, the wording of the judicial judgment in this case has some intended or unintended corollaries, that call for a swift review.

At another level, India’s constitutional secularism too is at stake. The general definition of ‘secularism’ all around the world is based on the separation of State and religion in state affair. Our Republic Day is most appropriate time to reflect on the working of our constitutional secularism. Sadly, however, it is open to public scrutiny that in practice, religion and especially the supposedly “Hindu culture” – a heavily coloured religious version of Hindutva, the new political face of Vedic Brahminical dominance of the social polity, is allowed to rule the roost even in the portals of secular institutions.

Judiciary is one such area, where recently a spate of judgments has been coming forth, which is openly directed towards Indian Muslims and their religious affairs. Muslim organisations, including All India Muslim Personal Law Board are apparently snowed over by having to deal with the avalanche of such judicial judgments that would ordinarily provoke a Shah Banu-like response from the community at large. The general feeling among Muslims is that whatever may be merit of points raised by the Judiciary, the underlining attitude is to narrow the area of freedom that all religious groupings have a right to expect from India’s secular constitution. The entire exercise is looked upon by a cross section of Muslim community as a new form of communalism wrapped in the cloak of justice and fairplay. Justice not only should be done, but should be seen to be done. On that count the current season of anti-Muslim focus of forced reform is more to create disunity among the community and to introduce the divide and rule strategy, as long as Muslims are kept on the sidelines of Indian polity. The so-called liberals, and that includes even some of politically savvy Ulama too, are dithering in their responses and willing to compromise as far as possible. However, unless they draw a Green Line and let the State know where the secular government should not cross it, the social polity will fracture at a worst time, when its unity is so badly needed to face challenges coming from outside our borders.

Ghulam Muhammed

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2010 on page no. 14

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