When religion is made a reason to be atrocious
- Kushan Mitra
When one thinks of the triple talaq debate logically, there is no sense in the arguments that it is an established religious practice and is essential to the practice of Islam. Not only have theocratic Islamic nations outlawed the practice but in a time where we as a society realise that women have equal rights, just how can this frankly barbaric insult to women’s rights continue? This does not any way attack the rights of people to practice Islam, but like any other religion, there needs to be an understanding by religious leaders that religion must evolve.
The great Bengali reformer and patriot and founder of the Brahmo Samaj, Raja Ram Mohan Roy was one of the first to speak up against the terrifying practice of sati. After he saw his brother’s wife effectively murdered on his funeral pyre, he campaigned ferociously against the practice.
Roy, a pioneer of the Hindu renaissance and the revival of political power among Hindus, was a man who realised that the religion had to evolve. This was despite the fury that greeted some of his proposals in Bengal. Yet, it was only 190 years ago that the practice of sati was abolished. While revivalist Hinduism still has some practices that need to be purged out, the era of sati is considered a dark blot in history.
Similarly, triple talaq has to go, whether it happens judicially or in Parliament. It is a practice rooted in religious history, but from a time long ago where society, and the human race for that matter, were far more backward. We live in a time where technology rules our lives and we know that women have equal rights. And it is not as if this is practised by those from a backward educational background. Stories of people who have had a modern education indulging in practice have also emerged.
The tripletalaq issue thus has become one where reconciling between women’s rights and religious freedom have become intertwined. Yet, there should be no debate whatsoever, because human rights score above religion at all times. And this is a lesson that the violent Gau rakshaks must also heed. Vigilantism should not become the order of the day.
True, there is a serious problem of cattle-rustling across the country, and some of the vigilantes have formed gangs in response to that. Yet, if we are to show that we are a civilised society, there needs to faith reposed in the rule of law. Just like triple talaq is an abhorrent practice that must be consigned to history, there needs to be strict action against violent Gau rakshaks and the like.
There are vestiges of much older practice that continue to dominate the political discourse in India, such as the caste system. There is no excuse for thevarna regime, and when you hear stories of higher caste gangs attacking Dalit marriage parties because the groom ‘dared’ to ride on a horse, you cannot but think that it unfortunate that the work of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dayanand Saraswati is not being taken forward in this generation.
Indeed, the advent of mass media has only highlighted just how bad the caste problem remains outside the richer parts of large metropolitan cities. Between triple talaq and the caste system, India’s claims to be a rising society sound hollow. But unlike trying to address the social injustice of the caste system, the country has let internal religious discrimination or has condoned other practices.
For example, Sikh women are allowed to ride a two-wheeler without a helmet in Delhi because their religious leaders have gained for them an exemption. What is depressing is that many Sikh women really do not wear helmets on two-wheelers even though common sense would make anybody realise that wearing a helmet adds to safety. How can any ‘religious’ leader want to make such an exemption? Because this values human life below that of following a practice. That is simply wrong.
And Parliament has to soon consider implement an Uniform Civil Code because such a code will codify a simple fact, Humanism and the respect of all human beings as equal before any religious book. Keep in mind, every major religious text is over a millennia old, and some of the older ones three or four millennia old. You could not live in a time before the internal combustion engine, flight, modern medicine and the internet? So how can you live by some rules codified back then? A Uniform Civil Code will ensure that people — men or women — do not suffer legally or societally because of the faith they profess, whether it is Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or any other religion.
Because when you think about it, we live in a time of instant gratification through social media and online consumerism. We are but a click away from being to fly across 10,000 kilometres across the face of the planet. We are achieving things that were unimaginable to our ancestors so we must evolve. Among a majority of younger people in developed countries religion’s importance is fading away. Yet, we are fighting wars and great civilisational wars in the middle east that in essence are religious wars.
This is not to argue that faith or religion is not important, some of the greatest scientists in the world have managed to reconcile their faith and the advancements. No matter how scientific one might be, most births, marriages and funerals are still highly religious events. Yet, a basic tenet of every faith is respect for a fellow being. How can men and women of any faith reconcile themselves with some of the practices which even if they do not profess, others in their faith do? It is important for reformers to stand up and force change. If we are to become a truly secular country we have to be a country which has one common law for every man, woman and child.
(The writer is Managing Editor, The Pioneer)
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