Modi government 2.0’s 1st legislative attempt, the criminalization of the Triple Talaq has led to widespread agitation. In furtherance to their political agenda, the opposition has united as one to quash the bill, irrespective of the benefit conferred on the women. It is in this situation that PM Modi has brought to attention, the views of the former Congress union minister Arif Mohammad Khan, presently, a Quran scholar; in his Lok Sabha speech. Thus, the 1986 parliamentary debates of the Shah Bano case have gained momentum and it is against this backdrop that prominent journalist from the leading leftist portal, ‘The Wire’, Arfa Khanum Sherwani interviewed Arif Mohammad Khan, who set her facts straight.
Throughout the interview, one could see Arfa Khanum Sherwani trying to question Arif Mohammad Khan in a way to convey that the Modi government has segregated the country due to which the Muslims are suffering. Arif Mohammad Khan took none of her baits and proceeded to convey how the Congress government had treated the Muslim women, a section of the society they had a responsibility towards; for their political appeasement agenda.
During the Shah Bano case in 1986, the parliament under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi had passed a law reversing the Supreme Court judgment which entitled the divorced women to get maintenance from their husband. However, according to the law passed, the husbands had no responsibility towards divorced women after the iddat period was over. This was done under the pressure of the Muslim males who did not want the added responsibility and thus, by appeasing the men, Congress had secured their vote bank.
Arif Mohammad Khan had resigned at this gross injustice, to which a Congress minister had stated, “Upliftment of Muslims is not the responsibility of the Congress, if they want to lie in gutter, let them be”. According to Arif Khan, these are the seeds sown by the Congress, whose repercussions people in 2019 are facing when the current government has to fight the prevalence of immoral practices. Triple Talaq shouldn’t have gone beyond 1986 and the fact that it has is no one’s but the previous Congress governments’ fault.
To one, this attitude of Congress may sound like complete and utter political apathy, something which isn’t expected from the ruling party in a democracy. However, Arfa Khanum obviously viewed that as the ideal perception and is against the Modi government for attempting to break the practice. On her question on the future of Muslims, Arif Khan confidently said, “India’s future is the future of the Muslims”. Sherwani wasn’t satisfied and pressed on, “what about the religious identity”. To this, Arif Khan replied, “What status of Muslims are you talking about? The right to divorce a wife after repeating talaq thrice and throwing her out of the house? Or the right to marry 4 wives when you can’t even support one?”
According to Sherwani, the intolerance in India is on the rise and the Muslims are threatened. She stated, “We live in a kind of country where the politics revolve around an anti-Muslim pillar”. Arif Khan put her in her right place by retorting, “What do you mean ‘live in a kind of country’? Would you rather live in a place like Syria, or Yemen or even Pakistan?” He further elaborated by stating, “We live in the kind of country wherein Deoband form of interpretation is legal. The book states that it is okay to wage a war against other religions, and is being followed by 4 percent of the Muslims, who control the Islamic teachings. Moreover, this is the country where any tax such as jizya isn’t levied from anyone and all the citizens are treated equally, so where is the question of intolerance?”
People like Sherwani believe that the Modi government is being intolerant towards the Muslims when they don’t introduce policies to appease them, as treating them equally is simply unacceptable. They don’t realise that Congress never intended to uplift them, and only wanted to maintain a façade which gets the votes coming. An example of Congress’ hypocrisy was related by Arif Khan, “Congress banned the ‘Satanic Verses’ (Salman Rushdie’s novel) to appease the Muslims but never ensured its implementation. In fact, after the ban, the sales increased from 10 copies to 10,000 copies. After 3 months it was known that the Congress hadn’t confiscated a single copy of the book. The Rajiv Gandhi government wasn’t interested in any substance and merely in slogans.”
None of the other minorities are raising questions about their participation in the parliament or intolerance towards them, including the Parsis which are immersed in being productive and economically beneficial for the country at large. This was also a problem for Arfa Khanum as she started harping about how Muslims are uneducated so they haven’t been able to progress. Arif Mohammad Khan stated outright, “This is no one’s, but the Muslim’s own fault. Historically speaking, the Maulvis banned the Muslims from attending English education and till today, the children are put in Madrassas where they are taught the Deoband interpretation of Quran and are preached against formal education.” Moreover, even the men who cannot support multiple wives and children are keen on propagating, which just adds to their poverty-stricken condition.
Yet, Sherwani somehow tried to establish the fact that Muslims, as a community are being targeted under the intolerance Hindu regime. Arif Khan then explained that it is the “Nationalism and the unity factor which is binding the people and irrespective of the religion, the misfits under the Modi government are just that-misfits.” He illustrated “how a particular Hindu community in Haryana, which had been quite powerful, under the Modi government has had to merge with the rest of people to be relevant.”
Eventually out of accusations, Arfa Khanum Sherwani stated that “since majority people aren’t well educated like Arif Khan and have their ideology brainwashed with Deoband’s interpretation of Quran, their interests should also be taken into account.” Essentially, Sherwani believes that Muslims with distorted thinking, who believe themselves to be superior and hence demand an Islamic state and preach the destruction of all other religions, need to be taken care of; and if their interests remain unfulfilled, the government has to answer for that.
The government isn’t indulging in vote bank politics and appeasement policies, and the liberals, perturbed with the idea of viewing Muslims at an equal footing with equal recognition under the law, believe that this is intolerance. This is exactly what Arfa Khanum Sherwani was trying to extract out of a respected Quran scholar, who showed her exactly what he thought about such conspiracy theories.