For the past eight months, Sofia Ahmed has had to parry questions from those who knew about her decision to join the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On Monday, however, the 24-year-old Muslim woman from Kanpur, a survivor of triple talaq, said she felt vindicated after the Supreme Court decided to strike down the practice of instant divorce as unconstitutional. It removed any lingering doubts she had about her association with the Hindu nationalist party.
Ahmed had joined the BJP because it had promised to continue its fight towards abolishing triple talaq while campaigning for the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. This was the December of 2016, four months after she had extricated herself from a violent and abusive relationship with a man from a powerful political family in Kanpur.
"Today, I'm feeling so proud. I know now that I didn't take the wrong decision. I did the right thing by joining the BJP," Ahmed told HuffPost India over the phone.
"This is a historic judgment," she said.
On Monday, in a 3-2 ruling, the Supreme Court said that triple talaq, practiced by Sunni Muslims in the country, violated the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.
"Today, I'm feeling so proud. I know now that I didn't take the wrong decision. I did the right thing by joining the BJP.
Ahmed, who is the mother of a two-year-old, is now confident that more Muslim women will come forward to support the party. "This judgment is going to make a big change in how Muslim women think about the BJP. I think women will realize that Prime Minister Modi stood up for us and it was not just an empty promise," she said.
It is worth noting that while the BJP claims to be pro-woman, and has introduced schemes such as 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao', the party has time and again exhibited a retrograde mindset when it comes to women. Since it came to power in May 2014, the party has come under attack for not doing enough to curb an army of trolls, sympathetic to it, who threaten women on social platforms. Many of its top leaders have been accused of following abusive handles, and saying regressive things about women. Considering how frequently and effectively the prime minister uses social media, his silence in the matter is deafening.
Judgment of the Hon'ble SC on Triple Talaq is historic. It grants equality to Muslim women and is a powerful measure for women empowerment.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 22, 2017
HuffPost India has followed Ahmed's story since she first started campaigning for the BJP during the Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, earlier this year.
Joining politics gave her life a new meaning. Her husband, a serial adulterer, would allegedly wield triple talaq as a weapon. If she dared to question him about his affairs, he would threaten her with instant divorce. Ahmed said there were times when he would come home in a drunken stupor and say talaq three times, half-serious and half-joking.
At the time, Ahmed, the first person from her family to join the BJP, had expressed a deep admiration for Modi, whom she believed was the moderate face of the party that is founded on the principle of Hindutva. When Modi chose the Hindutva firebrand Yogi Adityanath to be the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Ahmed admitted that she was shocked, but was willing to give him a chance.
For Ahmed, the triple talaq verdict is simply "too huge" for the Muslim community to ignore. Millions of Muslim women will celebrate it because it is a slap in the face of the religious leaders in the community who had opposed change for so long. Speaking in the context of the Muslim clergy, she said, "Muslims are chief enemies of Muslims. Today as a Muslim woman, I'm telling you that I feel safer among Hindus than I do among Muslims."
Today as a Muslim woman, I'm telling you that I feel safer among Hindus than I do among Muslims.
While Muslim women have fought a long and lonely battle against triple talaq for nearly thirty years, the BJP, in the course of a year, had adopted and owned the problem. The party positioned itself as the great reformer.
It became the first political party in power to take a stand against triple talaq in court. The BJP also made ending triple talaq a campaign promise in the UP Assembly election.
While many people were convinced that BJP was exploiting triple talaq to usher in the Uniform Civil Code, the BJP's intervention brought unprecedented attention to the suffering caused by the instant divorce and galvanized public opinion against it.
As the dust settles around the historic judgment, the BJP and its ideological partners will use it politically. But there is still a question mark on whether the verdict will help the party make inroads into the Muslim community.
It is worth noting that the BJP claimed to have Muslim support in the UP Assembly election, but there is no evidence that Muslims had voted for the BJP in UP. In fact, there was not a single constituency where the BJP's vote share exceeded that of the Hindu population of that constituency.
Analysts believe that the verdict could improve BJP's image among "secular" Hindus, but the jury is out on whether the Hindu nationalist party has managed to endear itself to the Muslim community, especially its women.
Many find it to be a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, from the beef ban to the marauding gau rakshaks, the BJP's rule is widely regarded to have reduced Muslims to second-class citizens in their own country. On the other hand, Modi has consistently and very vocally condemned triple talaq.
Ashutosh Misra, a political science professor at Lucknow University, said that all we have is anecdotal information to go on, but that cannot be entirely discounted. "There will be an impact. Even if we take into the account the religiosity of Muslim women, the question of security and dignity in marital life is also very important," he said. "It has a significance of its own."
What the BJP had done was to end to "tyranny" of the conservative Muslim men who for decades had presided over the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a non-governmental organization that "defends" the application of Muslim personal law, and has for decades used it to subjugate women. "The AIMPLB can no longer manipulate politics," said Misra.
Even if we take into the account the religiosity of Muslim women, the question of security and dignity in marital life is also very important
Congress For Maulvis
The reactions from leaders of the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), following the Supreme Court verdict, make it clear that triple talaq victory would be used politically.
Take for instance Indresh Kumar, patron of the RSS' Muslim Rashtriya Manch, who said that the verdict should be celebrated as "Islam saved from orthodoxy day." Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "India of 2017 is not the India of 1986-87. The leadership of Modi is not the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi that will buckle under pressure."
In 1987, in order to appease orthodox Muslim leaders in an election year, the Rajiv Gandhi government denied Shah Bano the right to seek lifetime maintenance from her husband.
Naish Hasan, co-founder of Bharat Muslim Mahila Aandolan, said that Muslim women had never intended the fight against triple talaq to get linked to any political party. The social activist recalled that Muslim women had even sought support from the Congress Party when it was in power, but never received it.
"The Congress has only seen value in supporting the Muslim man and the maulvis but never the Muslim woman."
"The Congress has only seen value in supporting the Muslim man and the maulvis but never the Muslim woman," she said. "Now if the BJP has taken advantage of the mistake that the Congress made then where is the problem?"
Hasan pointed out that the Modi government's follow up to the Supreme Court's verdict would reveal if the BJP was genuinely invested. "How quickly will they bring the law?" she asked. "The fight for Muslim women is far from over. We have to polygamy, mutha marriage...."
Coincidentally, it was shortly before the Supreme Court verdict on Monday morning that Ahmed received news of her own case. One year after she first complained against her husband, the local police had finally registered an FIR against him.
Ahmed said that she was struggling to get justice even though she is educated and belongs to an affluent family. In the family court that she visits now, Ahmed sees qazis forcing other triple talaq survivors from under-privileged backgrounds to drop cases against their husbands.
"They even tell them to go back to their husbands even if it means putting their lives in danger," she said. "We have so much work to do. This verdict gives me hope."
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