Perhaps only the very credulous would believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words calling for protection of rights of Muslim women against practices like three talaq. Politicising issues like gender justice or Uniform Civil Code should not be attempted in electioneering. But Mr. Modi’s reference to the issue at an election rally in Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh may be a straw in the wind. One would not miss the significance of the remark especially in a state where Muslim votes (18%) matter much and have been crucial in tilting the balance of power towards parties that are committed to empowering the subaltern communities namely, the Other Backward Communities, Dalits and the Scheduled Tribes together with minorities.
It does not behoove the Prime Minister to make such a partisan reference. Gender justice is a long-term goal and no purpose will be achieved by politicizing it or making it an election issue except that it may polarize the voters. It is useful to be reminded that more urgent matters such as 33% reservation for women in legislatures, have been pending in the Parliament for the last 15 years and all political parties have dithered at best, or maintained silence at worst, on the issue. Even as the petition by Uttarakhand resident on triple talaq is pending before the Supreme Court, it is widely suspected that the Union Government is behind the move on Uniform Civil Code by the Law Commission of India. Move on UCC is fraught with grave risks for the social harmony in India.
Immense amount of discussion would be needed on gender rights as biological and physical differences between genders themselves require much deliberation. Take, for instance, the case of equal opportunity for women in the armed forces. No nation around the world could be cited in proof of insisting 50% reservation for the fairer (or weaker) sex in the sector, despite all the loud talk of equality of gender. What they end up realizing (though not admitting) is that dealing with or treating both sexes equally does not mean taking them as identical.
It will be in the fitness of things if issues of development for all (sabka saath, sabka vikas) are taken up for mass mobilization. Prime Minister has launched several meaningful initiatives such as Skill India, Make in India, Digital India, Beti bachao, Beti Padhao, Swachch Bharat, Jan Dhan Yojana etc. It would be appropriate if the BJP tries to put its rivals on the mat on the basis of these issues. Partisan politics on the basis of gender prejudices will end up dividing the communities even more. Even the Muslim Personal Law Board would be well advised in keeping the issue away from the electoral politics. Laws are evolutionary in nature and reform is a continuous process. One should not close his or her eyes from this basic reality.