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BJP’s Two-Faced Approach to Triple Talaq and Sabarimala, Congress Hypocrisy Expose Gender Justice Doublespeak

It's not a question of gender parity at all, but of “my patriarchy is better than your patriarchy”.

Bhavdeep Kang |

Updated:November 16, 2018, 10:07 AM IST
BJP’s Two-Faced Approach to Triple Talaq and Sabarimala, Congress Hypocrisy Expose Gender Justice Doublespeak
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The irreconcilable differences in the BJP's stance on a Uniform Civil Code and the Supreme Court's Sabarimala verdict bear testimony to the doublespeak of political parties on gender justice. Its two-faced approach to Triple Talaq and Sabarimala is matched only by the sheer hypocrisy of the Congress on these issues.

The BJP is all too willing to champion the rights of Muslim women, but is far less concerned about their Hindu sisters. It's not a question of gender parity at all, but of “my patriarchy is better than your patriarchy”.

Since the 1990s, the BJP has stood for a Uniform Civil Code, from a stated perspective of gender parity. To quote its 2014 manifesto: “BJP believes that there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts a uniform civil code, which protects the rights of all women”. Such a code, to govern matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption, is meant to ensure that women get a fair deal.

But if the spirit of the Uniform Civil Code is equality for women, then how can it oppose the Sabarimala verdict allowing women aged 10 to 50 years entry into the Ayyappa temple? Particularly after the BJP government in Maharashtra gave an undertaking to the Bombay High Court in 2016, that women would be allowed entry into all the temples in the state.

BJP president Amit Shah has tried unsuccessfully to justify his party's stance, relying not on logical or legal grounds, but on the quicksand of popular sentiment. Drawing a distinction between Sabarimala and triple talaq, he said “there are 13 temples in India where men are not allowed...it is about respecting everyone's sentiments”.

What about the sentiments of the thousands of women who want to visit Sabarimala? Popular sentiment was against the entry of women into Shani Shingnapur Shirdi as well, but the temple authorities gave way in the face of government insistence. As a political party, the BJP feels compelled to side with public sentiment, but as a member of the NDA government, it is constitutionally bound to obey the judiciary.

If the BJP finds itself in an awkward position, after having bent over backwards to legislate a ban on triple talaq, the Congress is in an even bigger mess. Its track record on the rights of Muslim women is deplorable, starting with the subversion of the SC judgment in the Shah Bano case (thereby denying proper maintenance to divorced women) to raising a slew of objections to the triple talaq bill.

The palm for doublespeak goes to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who said - without a shred of embarrassment - that while he personally supports the entry of women into Sabarimala, his party won't let him. “My opinion is that women are equal and should be allowed in but my party unit in Kerala has a different view...I'm going with the party,” he said, to the annoyance of rather more mature leaders in his party.

Given that his mother and grandmother have both served as Congress president, there's no excuse for this kind of vote-bank politics.

Surely, it must have occurred to both Shah and Gandhi that stigmatizing women for a natural biological function is equivalent to untouchability? The hoary taboos against menstruation stood consigned to the trash heap the instant disposible pads and tampons were invented, or should have been.

If social customs do not conform to law, then one or the other must be changed. The fundamentals of the Constitution alone are immutable. If the SC has passed a judgment, it has the force of law and it is incumbent on the political class to honour it. Instead of ganging up to oppose the apex court when it upholds the Constitution, political parties would do better to convince social organisations to adapt to the law.

The Sabarimala temple is not a private club, which can disallow the entry of women. Administered by the Travancore Devasvom Trust, an affiliate authority of the Kerala state government, it is a public place. Logically, no one can be refused entry. The SC has done its job and upheld the Constitution.

The Kerala government has to do its job by implementing the order of the court. The question is when political parties will do theirs, and start acting as a bridge between society and state.
| Edited by: Aakarshuk Sarna
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