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Most Muslim thinkers say there’s no such thing as triple talaq: Salman Khurshid (.hindu )

The senior Congress leader talks Pakistan, triple talaq, Indian Muslims, and his party’s need for a new vocabulary

Congress leader, former Foreign Minister and lawyer Salman Khurshid is a man of many parts. From tomorrow, he will be appearing in the Supreme Court as amicus curiae in the controversial triple talaq case. In a wide-ranging conversation, he talks about the triple talaq issue, what it means to be a Muslim in Narendra Modi’s India, the need in the Congress party for a new narrative, and the problem with the government’s Pakistan policy. Excerpts from the interview:

Why have you offered your services to the Supreme Court on triple talaq?

Why not? It may have a political context, but it’s not necessary to look at it in a political context. It can be seen in pure humanistic terms, and towards (developing) a pure understanding of the sociology of Islam. Instead of a partisan approach, we can have an objective discussion that will be helpful for both parties, the court and society. I have done some research, I offered it to the court and am very encouraged that the court accepted it.

But for the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), it is a political issue.

In politics, [you can] pose something for the benefit of a segment of society; or you can propose something [because] it gives you political advantage. If the BJP is genuinely concerned about the welfare of Muslim women, then it is understandable. If they are doing it to excite aversion to Muslims, it’s very sad. My view is that they may be taking a simplistic political stand. Therefore I hope an objective understanding of triple talaq will be an appropriate response.

The Muslim ulema see it as an interference in personal laws.

That’s their point of view. There are many other points of view. If ulema from elsewhere in the world and ulema from India have different positions then there needs to be a dialogue between the two sets of ulema rather than for Indian Muslims to say we will only listen to the Indian ulema.

Do you think the BJP is gradually moving towards enacting a Uniform Civil Code?

Maybe, but anyone in the BJP who thinks framing a Uniform Civil Code is about removing elements of Islam from the law in this country is barking up the wrong tree because there are many more complicated issues that arise. Let me give you an example: what is the position of the BJP on same-sex marriages? If you have a Uniform Civil Code, you can’t stop at traditional attitudes towards human relations.

Isn’t there a court ruling already on triple talaq?

There are High Court rulings and one specifically from Delhi of Justice Badar Ahmed which is very explicit: the ruling doesn’t say we will overrule triple talaq, it says there is no such thing as triple talaq. The world over, the majority view of Muslim thinkers is that there is no such thing as triple talaq. Even if you say talaq three times, it amounts to talaq being said only once. So we have to look at the texts more closely and then come to a conclusion.

Is triple talaq really a big issue for Muslim women?

It is not an issue at all, but anyone who feels the threat of adversity would like to stand up against it. But for the BJP to assume that Muslim women think only it can save them from this adversity is completely wrong. There are systems within Islam, and an understanding within the Muslim community that does not favour triple talaq. In fact, triple talaq is largely a propagation and promotion of Hindi movies.

You have written at least two books in which you have dwelt at length on what it means to be a Muslim in India. What does it mean to be a Muslim in Narendra Modi’s India?

Those books are already dated. What it means today is to understand what it means to be irrelevant. And you cannot blame Mr. Modi or [Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister] Yogi Adityanath for making Muslims irrelevant. The BJP is a political party and it has to win elections, and they have won elections by making Muslims irrelevant. But Muslims have played a major role in making themselves irrelevant.

Muslims have been wrongly described as a political group that is captive of the Congress and other liberal parties. They were participants in the Congress movement because it was the only movement that vigorously fought against Partition, refuted the idea of a divided India. So Muslims of India are those who rejected the idea of Pakistan. Where would they go? There have been disappointments with the Congress. Periodically, they return to the Congress. That’s how 10 years of UPA rule was possible. But Muslims have been constantly attacked for being Congress lackeys and the Congress has been attacked for appeasement of Muslims.

However, the fact remains that Muslims are not the only ones who have made themselves irrelevant. The liberals have made themselves completely irrelevant. The liberal voices are in complete isolation. It is liberal India that stood up for the minorities and women.

On the subject of appeasement of Muslims by the Congress, the A.K. Antony Report after the 2014 elections hinted that that might have been part of the problem.

I have not seen the report but I don’t accept the report has this because I have spoken to Mr. Antony. He said he was saying this is in the context of political structures in Kerala, it was not a general proposition.

That is not how it is read in your party.

My party has all kinds of characters but I don’t think they have a right to claim they speak for the party. I can say with enormous confidence that either in private conversations or in public we haven’t heard such a direction from our top leadership.

You mean Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

Yes, yes. But there is ideology, principle and perception. If a perception is being created against the Congress, then we have to learn the idiom and the manner of presentation so that we don’t become susceptible to perception. And that’s where some of our colleagues are lacking.

We are not an NGO, we are a political party. And therefore, what needs to be said has to be said in a manner that will unite, not divide people. We were under a lot of pressure from the NGOs to use a language that is unfortunately divisive. The Congress has a very inclusive and nationalistic idiom that it has used in the protection of minorities and of vulnerable sections of our society. If we lose that idiom, we will be hurt, and that’s what the BJP has done. It doesn’t mean that we have second thoughts on our ideology.

Doesn’t the party need a new narrative?

Of course, we need a new narrative, a redrafting of strategies, a change in vocabulary. I would say fight for liberal India, you don’t have to fight for secular India. If people are unwilling to understand what secularism means, we should take the larger picture and talk of liberalism.

Define it as freedom, the right to express yourself, do things that you want to do in a way that does not impinge on the other person, community. That’s how all liberal societies define themselves and that’s how India should define itself till such time as we can get the balance back to speak more freely and more openly about the rights of minorities.

It’s been three years since 2014 but there is no talk of a new narrative in the Congress.

In our party we tend to concentrate more on organisation. There’s always a lot of good people available all the time but the larger winning strategy — of course the changes you make in the organisation are absolutely indispensable, the fresh flavour, the fresh passion, fresh vigour to work, reorganise yourself — will come from new thought processes. Perhaps we have not done enough of that. We did this when we had conclaves in the past in the years before we came to office in 2004, we built up a narrative that brought us to power for 10 years. I think a similar exercise is called for.

What will you say about the BJP’s Pakistan policy?

Disastrous. They have not understood Pakistan. Mr. Modi thought it was all about hugs and kisses, and the amazing charm that won him elections in India would win him Pakistan. He has realised that is not the case. Pakistan is a hard nut, very complicated case. Not only are they convinced that their existence is hugely dependent on the continuing disharmony with India but also that their internal structures are very finely balanced on hostility towards India.

In all my references to Pakistan, I have said we must stand by the government. It is our duty and obligation that the nation remains united and speaks in one voice. But frankly, how long can we keep our eyes shut and not cry out in pain about what is going on — the repeated casualties and no explanations? What happened to all those promises of we will fix them, show them what India is… There are no easy answers, but you can’t show you are weak as far as your military preparedness is concerned.

What about dialogue?

Let them say that dialogue will never be resumed. You start it, one day you stop it. Nowhere in the world does conflict end without dialogue. To hold out a promise that there won’t be a dialogue is silly.

There will be dialogue at an appropriate time and under appropriate conditions after we have no reason to feel a sense of weakness. Casualties must stop, that is the first priority and it won’t stop by begging Pakistan to stop it. We must have the strength to stop it.


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