A Response To The PM’s Interview: Gender Equality Is Not Specific To Any Religion

Posted: January 3, 2019

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While triple talaq may be a graver issue that affects women in more fundamental ways, it is incorrect to call one faith-linked practice a tradition and another a matter of gender justice.

I can see news links popping up on my screen announcing the re-opening of the Sabarimala temple after completion of the purification rituals and protests erupting in Thiruvananthapuram after videos of two women in their 40’s entering the temple went viral. These protests and objections have been an ongoing event from the time the Supreme Court judgement was passed on 28th September, 2018 lifting the ban on women of menstruating age from entering the temple.

Today I am not here to write on the judgement as I have done that here already, neither am I going to talk about the protest and protesters because  I doubt any writing will have any positive effect on them.

Today I am here to talk about another newsworthy event, which has grabbed a lot of attention in the media – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first media interview in 2019. Well, there is a particular reply he gave in the interview which I am keen on discussing here, for the transcript of the whole interview you can refer to this link. You can also watch the video here:

This interview was given by the Prime Minister to news agency ANI, and with the Lok Sabha elections just a few months away, this interview grabbed a lot of attention. But what I want to talk about here is the 19th Question asked in the interview: “Triple Talaq Ordinance was considered a progressive move by you but at the same time in the Sabarimala issue your party gets stuck in the garb of customs and traditions. Why this contradiction? To this question the Prime Minister replied “These are two separate things. You are not seeing this properly.

In the world, Islamic countries, most of them have banned Triple Talaq. So, it is not a matter of religion or faith. Even in Pakistan, Triple Talaq is banned. So, it is an issue of gender equality, a matter of social justice. It is not an issue of faith. So, keep the two separate.

India is of one opinion that everyone should get their due rights. There are some temples, which have their own traditions, where men can’t go. And men don’t go… In this, Sabarimala, a woman judge in the Supreme Court has made certain observations. It needs to be read minutely. There is no need to attribute those to any political party. As a woman too, she has made some suggestions. There should be a debate on that as well sometimes.”

The first line is where the problem starts – it is clearly visible that both cases here are about gender equality. The Triple Talaq ordinance can be termed a graver issue as it involves the future of thousands of wronged women, but nevertheless that does not take away the fact that the fight of women to enter the Sabarimala temple is also an issue of gender justice. I would agree with him when he says the Triple Talaq ordinance has been banned in Islamic nations, so we should follow suit. But this involved a religious practice, albeit a wrong one but there is a religious connotation involved. Therefore, the stance that this is an issue absolved of religious nature is not agreeable. But nevertheless, his Government deserves the credit for the Ordinance, as it is a strong attempt at gender justice.

But the same person makes a diametrically opposite statement on the Sabarimala issue. This he conveniently dismisses as an issue of faith and not gender equality. As the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy is it not his duty that no citizen feels discriminated? A practice or faith which is discriminatory is wrong. That was the logic behind criminalising triple talaq, it was a discriminatory practice which victimised one gender. When it comes to the Sabarimala issue, one gender is being blatantly discriminated on the basis of a biological function and their right to Freedom of Religion is being affected. But in this issue the Prime Minister conveniently decides to choose faith over the violation of the rights of women. I wonder why?

The one possible explanation I could think of was, this involves people of his own faith and with approaching elections he might as well not rub the custodians of his faith the wrong way. This of course defeats the whole purpose of the Government’s work on empowering women through various schemes if their fight for equality or against discrimination is going to be dismissed blatantly just because it is against a faith or practice.

The counter argument of men being not allowed in temples in certain temples, seems to be the easiest justification for banning the entry women in Sabarimala. But the issue here is associating impurity with a biological function of a women’s body. Is this not akin to treating a human as lowly person? The men also have the right to seek legal recourse to seek entry in places of worship, just because they choose not to is no justification to hold the women back as well.

Secondly, he talks about Justice Indu Malhotra differing with the majority view on the judgement. She did state her reasons for differing from the majority view, but does that take away from the fact that Supreme Court passed the judgement allowing entry of women of menstruating age in the temple. So, by not paying heed to the judgement and just stressing on an aspect of it which suits his stance, is the apex court not being disrespected? A review petition filed challenging this verdict is pending in the Supreme Court, but the judgement has not been stayed. So, by supporting the hurdles being created to prevent women from entering the temple, not amount to violation of the judgement? Isn’t a negative precedent being set here?

The Prime Minister has proclaimed that empowering women is high on his agenda. But an issue which deserves attention for a lot of rightful reasons is being dismissed as an issue of faith, not to be interfered.This issue if given due attention could also bring to fore the sorry state of menstrual hygiene in our country because of the illogical impurity notion and stigma attached to it. A practice of faith propagating social evil needs to be checked. If every practice were left as it is because it is a matter of faith, we would still be practicing sati and atrocities on widows.

A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and

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