It was an odd subject for Pertie to raise. To be honest I wouldn’t have thought the issue interested him. Yet when he called his concern was unmistakable.
“Was the Prime Minister right to raise triple talaq?” he bluntly asked. Unprepared I played for time. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, it’s simple really. Is triple talaq a personal matter best left to individuals to decide for themselves or does it raise human rights issues where the State has a moral duty to step in?”
This struck me as a clear-headed and, even, insightful way of viewing the matter. Pertie had framed the triple talaq controversy rather cleverly and, when put this way, the answer was for me, at least, pretty obvious.
No doubt each time triple talaq is uttered it only affects the lives of two individuals, but you also can’t deny it transgresses fundamental rights which the State is expected to defend. Furthermore, if you believe in the sanctity of marriage, then the arbitrary and peremptory character of triple talaq has to be unacceptable. If marriages have to be registered and recognised by the State, then divorce must also have similar sanction. It cannot be left to the whims of husbands.
On all of this Pertie and I found ourselves in easy and quick agreement. “So what about my question, which you still haven’t answered? Was the Prime Minister right to say triple talaq mustn’t be politicised?”
Undoubtedly he was. If triple talaq infringes human rights we value and the State is expected to uphold, it must not become an issue on which political parties take opposing sides. In a democracy you cannot defend a practice that is an affront to the Constitution, not to mention the very concept of justice.
“In which case would you go one step further? Not only should triple talaq not be politicised but it also must not be viewed through religious eyes?” This wasn’t such an easy question to answer and I had to think carefully before I even tried. In the end Pertie answered it himself.
“If triple talaq offends against constitutional rights or the concept of justice can we accept and accommodate it on the grounds Islam has sanctified it without diminishing our democracy? And, anyway, are you sure triple talaq is part of Islam? Scholarship is clearly divided on this. Indeed there are many Islamic countries where triple talaq is simply not permitted. So the claim India’s secularism requires the State does not interfere with triple talaq is unconvincing.”
So far Pertie’s logic was impeccable. I couldn’t disagree. “But don’t we need to give the Muslim community time to accept this logic rather than impose it on them?”
“Why?” he responded. “India didn’t hesitate to outlaw discrimination on grounds of caste and, if anything, caste is integral to Hinduism. Why should triple talaq be placed on a different footing?”
Again, Pertie was right. If religious custom or observance flouts constitutional rights the Indian State must uphold the latter. Minority faiths cannot be an exception.
Finally, Pertie’s logic hinted at a further disconcerting question. On the issue of triple talaq the silence or ambivalence of Congress politicians and those from the Left is disturbing. I accept this is an awkward issue but that’s also why they need to speak out forcefully and clearly. There are times when you need to stand up for what you believe in. If you duck, it can only be at your own moral cost.