With the passing of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, or the triple talaq bill as it is popularly being referred to, the Modi government has been claiming to be a champion of women’s emancipation.
As expected from this government, which loves high optics, the bill was being touted as a "historic" one. Union minister MJ Akbar was extremely vocal in his defence of the bill, while his colleague, law minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, stated that the BJP, unlike Rajiv Gandhi, will not bow down on triple talaq.
Ironically, it was MJ Akbar who had convinced the Rajiv Gandhi administration to override the Shah Bano ruling in 1985, according to the former chief information commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah.
The supporters of the government are gung-ho about the triple talaq bill and claim that this is a much-needed step towards gender equality. However, they fail to realise that triple talaq was already declared null and void by the Supreme Court in August this year. The government has gone for an overkill and with the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 it criminalises what is essentially a civil matter. This is worrisome as it can be used unfairly to settle personal scores and as a source of blackmail by unscrupulous elements and hence questions the prudence of the government.
Almost every month legislators pass insensitive comments against women, but the government has largely kept quiet about it.
Not just the prudence, but even the sincerity of the government is under cloud and the actions of those in power need to be analysed and questioned. Last week, the PM heaped praise on Yogi Adityanath, claiming he’s a progressive leader, despite his attire. Yet, the PM ignored the UP chief minister’s views on women which in an article on his website, states that women don’t need freedom, but need protection and that their energies need to channelised properly. In the past, the monk-turned-politician had opposed the women’s reservation bill.
Almost every month legislators pass insensitive comments against women. Our public discourse is replete with sexist slurs and the government has largely kept quiet about it.
Of course, one can’t expect the legislators to be any different from the society they represent. It will be our collective fallacy to blame politics as the fount of all vices in the society as the leaders we are proud of only reflect out mindset.
Before the advent of the internet, when I was a young schoolgirl, I would be appalled at the doodles in public bathrooms, like at the railway stations. I remember thinking that a society’s morality (or the lack of it) is often reflected in the public bathrooms. I wondered what motivates people to scribble profanities and how they would treat the women in their lives. I was partially mistaken when I believed it was the anonymity.
With the advent of the internet, the lack of gender sensitivity, gaudily shines in cyber space with some people not even wanting to hide their vile behind anonymity. Like the graffiti in public bathrooms, the sexist slurs of the internet are an extension of our minds. It reflects poorly on our education system that has not been successful in inculcating gender sensitivity.
Obsessed with marks and competition, our education system has not been able to curb prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination, despite gender equality being one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UNDP, of which India is a signatory.
Instead of engaging in meaningless showmanship and high optics, the government must address the root of this social malaise if it is serious about promoting gender parity. Feminism is often derided and mocked by those in the government. There is a concerted effort to malign feminism and project it as a western construct which is against our Indian values. Such an attitude doesn’t augur well for inclusiveness and emancipation. Feminism is about ensuring gender equality and equity.
The government should prove its sincerity by chiding legislators who make sexist remarks even if they belong to their own party. If those in the government don’t lead by example, no meaningful changes can occur on the ground.
As a resolution for this new year, perhaps the prime minister can consider "unfollowing" abusive, misogynistic handles on Twitter. Since the government likes high optics and "historic" moments, it will be a great scoop for the media.
Imagine the headlines: "In a historic move, likely to be an impetus for gender parity, the PM 'unfollows' abusive Twitter handles" or the "first PM to do so in 70 years”.